Mountains of Corn
From GENE LOGSDON
The highest peak on the rather flattish landscape of Wyandot County, Ohio, where I live, is a landfill. We are so blessed because this is a rural county of lower than average population, exactly the kind of place that more populous areas like to use to dump their garbage. After all, the landfill occupies space that was once referred to in the local paper as “just farmland.” I will let that pass for now.
The second biggest hills, if you don’t count the ridge along the Sandusky River, are what we fondly refer to as our corn mountains. They appear every fall beside the grain elevators. That’s one of them in the photo above. By spring these mountains magically disappear into train cars. Last time I asked, most of the corn was going to chicken and egg factories in the Carolinas and Georgia, but that may have changed by now since these factories can sometimes buy grain shipped in by boat from South America cheaper than they can buy it here in the states. I will also let that pass for now. Presently there are animal factories closer to us than North Carolina, although there’s no guarantee that the corn will go there. It might end up in Saudi Arabia which has been known to import manure (from the Netherlands) because it has a hard time growing its own grain. I know you think I’m joking, but so help me I’m not.
We are lucky in Wyandot County this year. All our corn has been harvested. Farther out in the midwest, the corn mountains aren’t as big as usual yet this year because ten percent or more of the corn is still in the fields, under snow drifts. In many cases, beleaguered farmers decided earlier in the fall to let their crop stand longer than usual because corn this year would not dry down normally. The weather was too cool and wet much of the summer. One can spend up much of the potential profit in a corn crop if you have to dry it artificially from 30% moisture to 14% with natural gas or propane. Whether farmers will have lost more money in the long run from drying the corn early or letting it stand until the blizzard buried it is a moot point.
I have no idea how much deterioration in nutrient value that the corn in the photo is suffering but it has to be considerable especially if lengthy rains prevail. Corn dried down to 15% moisture does not have to be covered or aerated, the books say, at least not in cold winter temperatures. But better pray that really heavy rains don’t fall. If the piles remain into warmer spring weather or if the grain is not completely dry, lots of air ducts, tarp covering, and good drainage under the pile are necessary, and there can be problems.
But there is no alternative. There’s not enough bin storage to hold it all. Corn mountains used to develop hot spots and catch on fire more often than now. Knowhow is improving. But the sooner the better in getting the grain dry and moved out by train, semi, or barge to animal factories, or ethanol factories, or pet food factories, or corn syrup factories. Many farmers in recent years have invested in their own storing and drying facilities which alleviates the elevator situation considerably. Building and maintaining their own bins, however, costs more money than many farmers think they can afford. Whether they lose more money paying the elevator or doing it themselves is another moot point. Points get mooted all over the place in agriculture.
The jokers think maybe with more progress and more help from Monsanto Claus, in time we will have corn mountains tall enough to use as temporary winter ski slopes. Or perhaps a whole new winter sport will become popular in which elevators will compete to see who can grow the biggest corn mountain without having it heat up and catch on fire. Such a mountain could be a tourist attraction, especially when burning.
I have what I think is a more resourceful idea. Why not let those mountains of corn heat up in a controlled sort of way and pipe the heat off gradually to warm village homes and businesses? Seems to me there’s more profit in using the heat of composting corn for fuel than in drying it with propane for second rate animal feed. What would be left after composting would still have value as a feed supplement, or for methane generation, or for ethanol, or, shucks, even manure. Only we wouldn’t call it manure. Plant nutrient, that’s what we’d call it. I’m sure a clever grant writer could make a proposal along these lines that would command a huge “green” alternative subsidy from Uncle Sam to work out the details.
So I come home from viewing corn mountains and there are my animals out on Dec. 16, turning grass into local food all by themselves and without the travail of corn mountains. I hate to say it but surely farmers are going mad today.