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Mark Daul: What do we do with all that corn?

by jmaloni
Sat, Oct 12th 2013 07:00 am
Shown above is Tom Tower standing next to a cornfield on Route 93 in the Town of Porter.
Shown above is Tom Tower standing next to a cornfield on Route 93 in the Town of Porter.

by Mark Daul

Outdoors in Niagara

My sweet corn was beautiful and delicious, and there was lots of it this season. Here in Niagara County we seem to always have the best veggies and fruits including our sweet corn, which is a fruit.

How can corn be a fruit when all the while I thought it was a veggie, especially when mom's veggie soup always had corn in it? So it is explained, the fruit is a portion of the plant that has seeds and protected by its visible (outside) growth.

Look at a tomato; it has outside growth, so it is considered a fruit. Well, doesn't it? Nope, a tomato is a vegetable by declaration of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893. The court made that decision because, back then, there was an import tax on fruits and not veggies. Consequently, it was changed from a fruit to a vegetable to avoid the import taxes put on fruits, but not veggies. In my eyes, it still is a fruit.

Let's talk about the corn and the cornfields that adorn Niagara County. These fields are mostly "field corn." I'm not talking sweet corn, but rather field corn - fields that are starting to disappear now, as this story was written. You can see them just driving by - the stalks and leaves are turning brown/yellow and the corncob itself is drying right on the stalks. Don't dare to try and look over the tops of them, you can't. They will grow up to more that 12 feet tall.

Tom Tower is a large fruit farmer in Youngstown and operates a busy fresh fruit and veggie stand on Route 93. I stopped my car in amazement at the height of this cornfield as Tower was emerging from an orchard on the other side of the road. I asked him if he would stand near the corn so I could take a picture showing the height of these stalks. He did, right at ground level, and Tower is no little man. So you can see how tall these things will get.

Tower remarked, "I grew up in that house right over there," pointing at it, and said, "I never, in my whole life, saw corn grow that tall!"

When harvested the corn is cut right down to the ground, stalks and all, and put on huge trucks to be hauled away. The greatest percentage of it goes into making food products like cereal flakes, (corn flakes) hominy, grits, corn bread, cornstarch, and many more foods that we eat everyday. It is fed to our local livestock to make them bigger, stronger and healthier animals.

Tons and tons of field corn are also grown to fuel the nation's vehicles, not just here but the great wheat growing states in the mid-west like Iowa. Here in Niagara County, we are like a pimple on a basketball compared to some of these giant corn growing states.

After the stalks are cut and removed, I noticed that in a matter of days the fields are tilled over and the fields are left for the winter only to see some other crops like soybeans grown in its place. This is done to rebuild the nutrients (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) back to the soil, for more corn planting in a later year.

Corn growers and scientists have it all figured out about how many dollars it takes to grow a bushel of corn and what it costs to convert a bushel to make a box of corn flakes or a gallon of fuel.

Through research performed at Cornell University, "1 acre of land can yield about 7,110 pounds of corn, which can be processed into 328 gallons of ethanol. That is about 26.1 pounds of corn per gallon." A Cornell agricultural scientist is quoted as saying, "There is a fundamental input-yield problem: It takes more energy to make ethanol from grain than the combustion of ethanol produces," meaning, "Gasoline is more efficient than ethanol. One gallon of gasoline is equal to 1.5 gallons of ethanol."

It has been rumored for a long time that the old Pfeiffer Foods plant on Lake Street in Wilson could be earmarked for a distribution facility for this corn. Pfeiffer Foods was bought by LAWTA Properties in November 2009, and LAWTA has never said what they will use it for. It must be something good, because according to newspaper accounts they paid $419,000 for it. LAWTA owns and leases properties in Wilson and Porter, and of course other places I don't know about that grow corn crops, so if you put 2 and 2 together, what do you think? Would you sink that kind of money in a property just to let it sit? The chief officer/farm manager, of LAWTA is Parm Atwal, connected to the famous Western New York eye care firm.

So, the next time you are out on a mission to someplace in the county, look for a large, tall field of corn, or a place that was just cut, and tilled, see how big the acreage is. Sweet corn is all picked canned and eaten, gone for this season, and what you see now is for the food industry, livestock and gasohol.

Who is "So Smart?"

He is a fish character that I created many years ago when I was an editor of a small fishing related newsletter. "So Smart" would occasionally give the readers fishing and outdoor tips to make life easier for them, just like the following tip:

•What do you do when the fish aren't biting?

A simple solution: Watch other anglers. If someone else is catching fish and you're not, learn from their success. Maybe they're fishing deeper, trolling slower, using different bait or fishing a particular spot that's more productive, don't be afraid to ask questions, and try to do what they're doing. "So Smart" says he wants you to be smart, too!

•One summer when we were starving for rain around here and the grass wasn't growing I overheard a conversation between two guys in the grass cutting business. One asked, "What do you do when the grass isn't growing?"

Wondering where his next job was to come from he shot back, "Well, you don't cut it!" So, let that be another tip for you. Ha! Have a question for "So Smart?" Email me.

Remarks, good or bad always welcome, email [email protected] or [email protected], attn., Terry Duffy. Remember to take someone fishing!

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