Corn Growing Everywhere



As you can see from the photo, a blade of corn is growing in my old pickup truck. Over the years, a hole wore into the bed, enough for a kernel to lodge in, along with a bit of the manure I’d been hauling. When I left the truck out in the rain, sure enough, a well-fertilized and irrigated kernel sprout came up. I thought it would die soon enough, but even after I parked in the garage, the corn plant grew another inch or so. It is starting to pale a little as you can see, but it is still alive and makes a great poster for farm country in 2013. There’s corn growing everywhere this year.

In fact when I was planting my open-pollinated field corn, a few kernels fell into the pasture next to the plot where I was loading the planter and some of them are growing, knee high now, up through the grass and clover and weeds. Rather unnerving since normally, whatever that is, it is often hard to get a stand of corn to sprout even when the ground is worked into a nice fine seedbed. When it rains like it did this year, and still coming down in August, all bets are off on the right way to farm. This year you could have dropped corn kernels from the sky down the media strip of superhighways and gotten a fair stand. With the corn craze, I’m surprised no one tried.

The abundance of rain has drowned out the river bottom corn and in wet spots even on upland fields, but oh my, what is growing on most of the acres is awesome, much taller than usual and a very deep green color, with a fat ear on all the stalks planted five inches apart. An email from a friend in Iowa says the corn there is fabulous too. As I said last week, I think we are going to have a record crop. Even corn on poor hilly land that should not be planted to corn is going to make a crop, at least between the eroded gullies. The number one question among farmers is whether the price is going to collapse and what that will mean if anything.

 Already the price has fallen significantly from last winter’s highs but farmers generally have sold some of their crop, maybe all of it, on the futures market— forward pricing. As Economics 101 says, they have “protected” their crop from falling prices. If they sold their corn for $7.00 a bushel early this spring, the fact that the price by harvest time may be down to $5.00, as some are predicted, won’t matter as much to them. We’re talking here $2.00 a bushel difference and let us say you have 4000 acres that yields 200 bushels per acre. That’s getting close to a million bucks. Not exactly chicken feed. So, who is going to get hurt, because the grain elevators also play the futures market. I have never really understood this forward pricing business, even though I pretend that I do so I don’t look stupid around the experts. It seems to me, stupid or not, that if someone bought that corn, even if just on paper, and has to sell it for two dollars less, someone’s forward pricing protection is going to go down the toilet. I will bet that if you follow this all out to the bitter end, it will be the taxpayer who takes the hit. Even the lost corn in the river bottoms will not much hurt the farmer since most of them have insurance now—which is paid for partly by taxpayers too.

I can never understand why urban people so often think that farming is dull and boring. Having to depend on the weather and governmental wisdom for a living is almost as frightening as a stint in Afghanistan. But at least for right now, I can drive down a country road with corn so tall on either side that I feel like I’m driving through a forest, and whistle a happy tune. After all it’s not my corn. Mine is growing in the pickup bed, handy for delivery to the elevator.


a question for Gene and the usual interesting folk:
Five years ago, when my son’s kindergarten class went on a halloween field trip to a pumpkin farm, we were allowed to pick some decorative ‘Indian corn’ from their field. My elderly neighbor invited me to use her much bigger suburban garden space this spring, and from a corner of the garage shelf, I picked a uniformly colored ear, shelled it, and planted the five year old kernels. I have a nice stand of corn now, with most of the stalks boasting two ears. (They also recovered nicely when strong winds from area tornados made them all touch their toes.) However, I found one plant that has FIVE ears (three decent sized, and two just starting.)

Questions: Should I deliberately save the seed from this one plant to hope to capture its tendency for many ears? Should I “mark with yarn” ears now from good looking (tall, robust) plants?

If frost holds off long enough to leave us a crop, I’ll measure out the plot and report back a ‘per acre’ weight/yield. Ought to be interesting!

Good to hear others are having a good crop, here in northwestern wi, we need rain, the big dairies started chopping corn last week ,as if they wait any longer there will be nothing to chop. Many bean and corn fields around here are burned up and the hay and pastures dont look to well either.

If a speculator buys future corn for $7 and later sells it for $5 of course he will lose money. But lets say I need corn to make a product, and I have a customer who wants to buy a steady supply of my products. I might be willing to “lock in” my price of $7 because I know that I can make my products and sell them at a decent profit margin. In fact I probably already have a contract with my customer. I don’t want to take the risk that by the time the harvest comes in the price per bushel might be $9, even if it means giving up the chance to save if it falls to $5. If I don’t lock in the $7 price, then, in effect, I have become a speculator! This kind of “end user” hedging and stability is the benefit that the futures market are supposed to provide, and speculation has a legitimate role to play in that. I don’t doubt for a second thought that there are massive abuses and corruption.

For the record, $2 per bushel, times 4000 acres, time 200 bushels per acre is $1.6 million.

Here in Georgia, we’ve had enough rain that small farms have struggled, even with the corn. The little farm out on Dallas Highway where I volunteer on Saturdays had a pretty puny stand; the field was just too wet to get into for fertilizing, and then the lamb’s quarters outgrew the corn. My own tiny patch of corn out in the front yard is okay, but it may be an exception, and it’s only 18 plants.

We have had a lot of rain in Michigan too, but unfortunately it brought some very cool days and chilly nights. The field corn is very tall and looks good, but unless you got your sweet corn in early the recent cool spell hit it at the wrong time so now the stalks are drying down even though the ears haven’t matured.

Here in Middle Tennessee, growing corn can crapshoot, especially for those of us on the ridgetops. Not this year. We have received over 21 inches of rain since June 1st. There has not been one day this summer when anyone’s corn has fired. Our hilltop corn is now tasseled out at nearly 12 feet tall.

I meant to say come. Typo. I’m very sure your could find someone growing hybrid corn rather that GE.

I know a few guy’s who sell corn to smaller producers. Most people dome with a gravity box fill it up and then keep it in there shed with a tarp over it.

Because life got in the way I’ve not been able to complete my planting of corn and small grains in wide spacing as per the Fukuoka, Bonfils method as I intended. It sounds like Gene and several others have involuntary noted that the corn will indeed grow in essentially a pasture if given enough fertility and water. Surprisingly I ran across an old bulletin from the USDA recommending that farmers plant corn in rows spaced wider than usual with alfalfa and clover in between the corn rows so the legume understory could be harvested if desired. Other research has indicated that practitioners of such “low input sustainable agriculture” might benefit from simply chopping the alfalfa which will provide slow release Nitrogen to the surrounding crop, but inasmuch as it’s a series of biological processes to make the nitrogen available to the surrounding crop, it takes time instead of the quick nitrogen release expected from synthetic fertilizers. In translation building up soil fertility via natural processes is not a quick fix so most of American agriculture isn’t willing to risk it.

However, I suspect that this planting of corn in between legumes or pasture sod may not yield at record levels, at least for a few years until fertility increases, but the resulting corn would be high quality product, although I could be surprised. BUT I also think soil erosion would be minimal and the gradual build up of fertility would be substantial over several years and for the Greenhouse gas enthusiasts, substantial gases namely carbon and nitrogen would be fixed in the soil for long term storage or “sequestration”.

I too have observed corn sprout and grow in the pasture sod. For the first few years before the pasture fertility was built up it looked like the proverbial 97 # weakling, puny and pale, but when it has reoccurred in more recent years from tossing corn to the critters the plants resulting from generic feed corn appeared quite robust. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite make it to maturity (goats got them) so I wasn’t able to determine the amount or quality of ears that would be produced, which is probably a good thing because family members were not enthused about the possibility of feed corn pollen cross-pollinating the delicious sweet corn growing in the garden.

Mel Bartholomew, the square foot gardening guru, advocates thick planting of sweet corn in garden boxes filled with his recommended Mel’s Mix, which contains compost and vermiculite. He essentially eschews soil but claims this method will provide good yields of sweet corn. He advocates wood boxes, but I doubt he has tried a pickup bed yet.

I’m thinking that, for those of us who still use the soil God gave us, perhaps the use of some natural home grown fertilizers plus a legume understory might allow a small scale homesteader to grow sweet corn in such box like structures (or pickup beds) and use excess sweet corn (what we don’t eat slathered in butter and salt) as dried feed for a very few chickens, with the stalks to feed the goats or the compost pile. I just paid $18.00 for a fifty pound bag of layer feed so the concept of supplementing the hen’s feed with some home grown corn is certainly tempting. Anyone interested along those lines of experimentation might pass along their results to Gene and the rest of us.

Interesting comments about buying direct. Anybody able to explain to a newbie country person why no such market exists? It exists for hay….

    Where I am in southern ohio, that is pretty common. There are a few large farms, but for the most part it’s smaller guys with a few hundred acres or less. Most will sell direct to a neighbor or feed store so they don’t have to travel 50 miles to the nearest elevator

That is a very good idea, Deb. I know lots of people looking for a good local source of non-GMO corn for their homestead livestock.

I wish there was a way to get corn direct from the farmer and skip the middle men. Those of us with just a few head of livestock and poultry could do little co-ops for shelling and milling corn for our own use. Not a new idea, I am sure. Anyone doing this in their area? I’d happily pay the farmer more than they get a bushel wholesale.

    Deb Schneider, this is something I’ve been thinking about too. Seems like the time is ripe for such businesses. I’m sure there has to be some but I don’t know of any. Let us know if you run across any. It is something I want to write about. Gene

    Deb, we called an area field-crop farmer and we bought 20 bu. wheat for our chickens right from his grain wagon. He gets a fifty cent premium vs what the co-op pays him, cash, plus a broiler chicken for his freezer. We save $ TEN $ bucks a bushel, compared to what the feed mill asks. He even moisture tests it, and makes sure it’s good enough for us to store. We use new, galvanized steel garbage cans for ‘silos’ with a good handful of diatomaceous earth stirred into the top. The birds love wheat soaked for a day, and then left to sprout for a day or two.

Nice. Though it does get worse and worse. Good to be able to feel like your somewhere else driving down the road. I do that in my backyard. Think I’ll plant some popcorn in my urban backyard next to the chickens, no, near the bees. Yes more sun there! HA HA Might get enough for a bowl of popcorn!

Gene and maths…
“We’re talking here $2.00 a bushel difference and let us say you have 4000 acres that yields 200 bushels per acre. That’s getting close to a million bucks.”

Funny you posted this today Gene.
Yesterday I was out in the fields, preping the next paddock for my goats. While there I stopped by to check out the small plot of forage turnips I planted in one of the old goat/chicken paddocks. There in the middle is what looks like half a dozen small corn stalks, tassels and all, not quite knee high.
How the heck did those get there? I did not plant corn! I dont even have any corn seed!
I figure, I have three RIR chickens in with the goats for tick/fly control. I give them wild bird seed with oyster shell mixed once a week for the eggs. I think there may have been some corn in the mix.
Amazing part, is the goats and chickens came through this paddock back in early June.
Nature finds a way, when and where you least expect it.

The futures market is a zero sum game. For every dollar made a dollar is lost. The only people that come out in the end is the broker who makes money either way on the transaction. I am sure small speculators take the biggest hit.

I too have seen what will likely be an extremely large corn crop this year. It reminds me of the mid 80’s when we had land prices run up and then record yields. So many farmers went bankrupt. It seems we will repeat the cycle once again.

I too, never did understand the futures market, no matter how many times they covered it in class in college. It seemed like someone was going to lose out/have to pay for it.
Also, your bumper yields may have to make up for the not so stellar stuff in central MO, where we got either not enough or way too much rain. Until about 2-3 weeks ago, the local corn was leaf rolling.

Great message today…I too wonder how all the Government Payments can be sustainable.
It just gets worse and worse.

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