Answer: Most of the crops grown locally are used for animal feed.
This time of year the combines are rolling and the crops are being harvested. But what do we do with our crops after we harvest them? The answer can be a complicated one depending on what exactly we are growing in our fields. The easy answer is that the majority of the corn and soybeans grown in this area are used for feeding animals. The more nuanced answer is that depending on what is being grown a myriad of uses exist for our crops.
The first step on the road to an end use is the conditioning and storage of our crops. Soybeans only require blowing air through the grain bins in order to cool and remove a little bit of moisture. Corn needs to be dried to 15% moisture so it does not spoil during storage.
For traditional field corn, ethanol production has become a big consumer of our crops. By delivering our corn to the ethanol plant in Rochelle we are not only getting a renewable fuel coming from a domestic crop that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere but roughly a third of the corn going in comes out as DDG’s, or dried distiller’s grains. These DDG’s are a value-added feed source for our livestock which makes it cheaper to transport than regular corn.
Much of our corn goes directly to feed hogs here in DeKalb County. We deliver the corn from our bins to theirs when they need it. Farmers then grind it and mix it with other feed stuffs and minerals to provide a balanced ration for their animals. Most corn and soybeans are sold as a “commodity,” or in other words a non-specialized crop.
This is where the term “Identity Preserved” comes into play. IP relates to keeping a specific crop’s identity segregated and pure. IP makes a claim about a product which typically raises the value of the crop.
For example, the soybeans we raise on our farm are Identity Preserved. The soybeans we grow are sold to Bayer and used for seed the following year. They are sorted and cleaned for quality, treated with fungicides and insecticide which protect them from pests when planted, and then bagged and shipped to customers.
There are many different types of field corn that are Identity Preserved. There is high-amylose, waxy, hard endosperm, non-GMO, food-grade, white corn, and organic corn, to name a few. Corn is also grown for planting the next year. Seed corn fields are usually irrigated fields that are detasseled and every few rows are missing (those were the male rows that pollinated the female rows). The male rows are destroyed as to not contaminate the female seed.
While Identity Preserved crops are prevalent throughout the Midwest, the vast majority of the corn and soybeans you see are likely grown to feed the livestock we raise, the fuel we use, and the fibers and oils that we use every day.
The majority of soybeans are crushed to extract the oil from the bean. This oil is used for cooking, plastics, biodiesel, and a host of other uses. Just like ethanol production, the co-product that is left over is soybean meal used to feed hogs and poultry.
We have developed a very efficient and useful production system in American agriculture. The products we grow here are here for a good reason. They fuel our local food systems, economies, manufacturing, and energies.
Next time you catch yourself looking at one of our fields, just imagine the possibilities.