Wisconsin Corn will have you grinning from “ear to ear”
Looking back on my last nine months of serving as the 75th Alice in Dairyland, I have traversed the state seeing so much of what Wisconsin agriculture has to offer. Driving across Wisconsin’s diverse landscape with Kernel, my flex-fuel Ford Explorer sponsored by the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, I have developed a new appreciation for Wisconsin’s corn and ethanol industries.
When I saw a field of corn, I used to only think of animal feed, which is a common assumption considering about half of Wisconsin corn is used for livestock feed, according to the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. On the contrary, corn can be used in more than 4,000 products ranging from tennis shoes to fuel.
About 37 percent of Wisconsin corn is used for ethanol production, which fuels my adventures as Alice. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2021, Wisconsin ranked ninth in the nation in fuel ethanol production capacity. Wisconsin’s nine ethanol plants can produce almost 600 million gallons of fuel ethanol per year. Wisconsin Corn shares that this adds about $4.2 billion in economic activity and 19,000 jobs for Wisconsin residents. The by-products from the process, known as distillers grains, can be fed back to livestock, adding even more efficiency to the process.
Clearly, grain corn is important for feed and ethanol, but it has its uses for making corn oil, corn starch and other non-food items as well. Just one bushel, or 56 pounds, of corn can produce 18 pounds of livestock feed, 2.8 gallons of ethanol, 14 pounds of corn gluten pellets, 1.8 pounds of corn oil and 17 pounds of carbon dioxide that can be used in the beverage industry and water treatment facilities.
Corn silage and sweet corn are also important kernels of our industry. Corn for silage production was estimated at 19.1 million tons in 2021. Wisconsin was the top producer in the nation for the crop. Corn silage is made by harvesting the still green stalk, leaves and ears of corn which is then chopped, fermented and fed to ruminants, like cows, as a high-energy feed source.
Sweet corn is my own high-energy feed source. Wisconsin ranked third in the nation for sweet corn in 2021 harvesting 53,200 acres. The fresh market was valued at $16.5 million while processing production was worth $36.5 million. Sweet corn is a treat enjoyed beyond our borders too as Wisconsin leads the nation in the export of prepared/preserved sweet corn.
As farmers begin their spring field work and corn sprouts start popping up over the next few months, I challenge you to think of how Wisconsin corn can play a role in your everyday life. From fueling up for the carpool to trying on new sneakers, and enjoying a side dish of corn in the cafeteria, our state’s corn industry can keep us grinning from ear to ear.
Taylor Schaefer is Wisconsin's 75th Alice in Dairyland