This time of year in Nebraska, our state flower, the goldenrod, is mellow yellow. The deciduous trees have turned color, and the corn growers are sweeping their fields with massive combine harvesters.
If you’re driving down rural roads in mid-America this time of year, be on the lookout for large, slow-moving farm equipment. You might see one just as you pop over the top of a hill. In the autumn, at night, you may see bright headlights in the fields as farmers work to bring in the corn before the onset of unfavorable weather.
Farmers always have deadlines and must adjust their personal schedules to accommodate windows of opportunity. The corn plants have to be dry in order to achieve a relatively trouble-free harvest. If the rains arrive before harvest is complete, the grain must be mechanically dried before it can be put into longterm storage.
Corn is the major crop here in Nebraska. One of our state mottoes is that we’re the Cornhusker State. In most regions of Nebraska, it’s hard to get away from that fact. (The western areas are less favorable for the crop, so there is far less corn grown there.)
Fun facts: the top four corn producing American states are Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Minnesota. While the United States is the world’s largest corn producer, China isn’t far behind at number two. Brazil is the third-ranked grower. They are followed by Argentina, The Ukraine, and India. We’re told these facts in school and in corn industry advertising. Corn is big business.
“Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51-billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005–twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans. Ethanol itself is propped up by hefty subsidies, including a 51-cent-per-gallon tax allowance for refiners.”–author and journalist, Jeff Goodell
Corn and grain growers are chronically plagued by unfavorable weather, global climate change, and worst of all–financial debt. If you’re acquainted with farmers, you know that their conversation usually centers around harsh weather and bank debt. They account for a sizable share of bank loans. Financially stressed grain growers are often in line for government assistance.
Broadcast newscasts in the Great Plains often feature stories about farmers’ weather and money woes. Speaking of advertising, there is a never-ending stream of advertising for seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. The advertising dollars from corporations that manufacture these products keep broadcasters afloat.
Meanwhile, the relationship between agribusiness and local communities borders on dysfunctional. Local business depends upon multinational and producer input. At the same time, as farmland ownership becomes more consolidated, there are fewer farmers to support local mom and pop businesses.
Local grain producers have become less independent and are more like employees or serfs to major multinational corporations. The producers are obliged by social custom and legally bound by financial law to plow their fields, plant the seeds, cultivate it mechanically or chemically, harvest it, and store it. To accomplish this, the growers must maintain relationships with big business, banking, and insurance.
As I drive down rural two-lane highways in the fall, I am sure to encounter at least one slow-moving grain combine as it takes up an entire width of a lane. I marvel at the cost of the machine. To buy one new, someone must pay close to half-a-million-dollars. Even pre-owned combines costs are in the six-figures. There are hidden costs such as maintenance for these complex machines. Routine care such new tires and engine upkeep must be figured in, as well.
Earlier this week, I had to follow one of these mechanical beasts on the highway for half a mile because of traffic. That’s what inspired me to write about corn production today.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes restaurateur, entrepreneur, Kimbal Musk. “If you’re a commodity corn farmer in Iowa, you’re locked into an infrastructure that keeps you a commodity corn farmer.”