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AGRICULTURE REPORT — December 10, 2002: Corn, Part 3 - 2002-12-09

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last week, we told about the many uses for corn. It is America’s most successful crop. Today, we tell about the hidden costs of corn.

American farmers grow about four times more corn than the country’s second biggest crop, soybeans. The United States controls seventy percent of the corn export market. In fact, forty percent of the world’s corn supply in grown in America.

But, some experts say it is possible for a crop to be too successful. Michael Pollan, an expert in plants and agriculture, says that there are hidden costs to growing corn. He says government aid to corn growers represents a cost to all Americans who pay taxes. Mister Pollan also notes that it is very difficult to make a profit from growing corn.

Farmers who grow corn receive more government aid than any other group of farmers. The Iowa Agriculture Review reports that corn growers received twenty-seven percent of all related farm aid in nineteen-ninety-nine. Yet, in the same year, corn produced only ten percent of the value of all crop sales.

The price of corn continues to drop even though the price of products made from it continues to rise. For example, in the last five years, the price of food products made from grain, called cereal, increased by almost six percent. In the same time period, the price of corn decreased by forty-three percent.

Corn production continues to increase, even though prices continue to drop. Today, farmers produce more corn per hectare than they did in the past. The Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture studies the causes of price changes in crop markets. It has found that farmers get about seventy-two percent more corn from their land than they did in nineteen-sixty-five. And far more land is used to grow corn today.

Other forces cause corn prices to remain low. The Export Enhancement Program is one of several laws that gives payments to crop exporters. These payments help to keep prices low so that American crops can be sold in foreign markets. But, they also keep prices in the United States low and that hurts American corn growers.

Experts say people have made corn more productive than it is naturally. Scientists have genetically changed corn so that it cannot be damaged by most insects. Michael Pollan likes to point out that corn now controls the people who use it.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.