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AGRICULTURE REPORT — November 26, 2002: Corn, Part 1 - 2002-11-25

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Corn is an important crop in many parts of the world. However, some people are concerned that corn has become too important in agricultural planning and production.

Michael Pollan is an expert in plants and agriculture. He wrote a popular book called “The Botany of Desire.” The book discusses how humans and plants have developed together. Mister Pollan also has spoken about the use of corn in agriculture and other industries. He says that American farmers grow too much corn.

Recently, Mister Pollan spoke to the Christian Science Monitor newspaper. He told the newspaper that corn is popular because it grows well with fertilizer. Today, farmers produce about six times more corn per hectare than farmers did one- hundred years ago. This is the result of new kinds of corn and the use of large amounts of fertilizer.

Modern fertilizers can be made in a number of ways. Corn mostly uses fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Nitrogen fertilizer is made by combining nitrogen from the air with hydrogen from natural gas. In the United States, large oil companies produce the chemical base used for nitrogen fertilizer.

Researchers for the Department of Agriculture have shown that corn requires about eighty-nine kilograms of fertilizer per hectare. Many crops require less fertilizer. Some crops require just as much. However, corn has lower amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals than other crops.

Corn is used to feed cows for about four months before they are killed for meat. The result is meat, or beef, that is high in fat, which makes the beef taste better.

However, cattle do not normally eat grain. Their stomachs and intestines do not process grain well. Instead, their stomachs produce much more acid than is normal. Mister Pollan says this condition permits harmful bacteria to survive and reproduce. For this reason, farmers must give cattle drugs to control bacteria. Also, the meat of corn-fed cattle lacks some nutrients found in the meat of cattle that eat mostly grass.

Corn has become the most important grain for feeding cattle raised for beef. Yet, some experts say it is not the best food for cattle. Next week, we will tell about other industrial uses for corn. Some of them may be surprising.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by Mario Ritter