CCAC President Jeremy Fix
Last month, we celebrated National Agriculture Day and Colorado Agriculture Day. Colorado Agriculture contributes nearly $47 billion to the state’s economy and is without a doubt an essential service to the public.
That being said, it’s easy to blame agriculture for issues relating to sustainability, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. For more than 50 years, corn farmers have worked to improve the quality of the water, air and soil they use every day.
Corn farmers work to find innovative ways to produce more, while using fewer resources. The Colorado Corn Administrative Committee invests checkoff dollars into research programs that address soil health, tillage, and nutrient management, enabling farmers to implement practices that protect the soil from erosion and nutrient loss.
As our population grows, farmers are on a path of continual improvement, finding ways to grow more food while protecting the environment. Responsible pesticide use enables sustainable growing practices like no-till farming and other regenerative farming methods that include conservation tillage and cover crops, which improves soil health, sequesters carbon, conserves water, reduces soil erosion, and reduces fuel usage.
In Colorado, more than 1 million acres of grain corn was harvested in 2020, producing nearly 123 million bushels of corn, making corn the second largest crop grown in Colorado. Nearly all of the corn that is grown here goes to supporting Colorado’s livestock industry in the form of feed. Grain corn is a sustainable staple in the diets of beef cattle, poultry, hogs and dairy cows, and is an excellent source of energy for livestock.
According to a Council for Agricultural Technology Task Force Report, cattle that are fed grain corn produce 19 percent more human-edible protein than they consume. Cattle are a great way for grain corn to become nutritious, human-edible protein.
Cattle are also used to graze crop residue, which is what is leftover in the field after a crop is harvested. This practice allows for farmers to utilize a no-till practice, while cleaning up the field and providing a natural fertilizer to the soil in terms of manure.
The remaining grain corn in Colorado that is not fed to livestock is used in ethanol production or industrial applications. Ethanol is truly a green, renewable fuel. Corn ethanol reduces environmental impacts through reductions in carbon and toxic tailpipe emissions while improving engine performance. Ethanol also helps to lower the price of gasoline at the pump, a big benefit for consumers. Nationally, nearly 30 percent of corn grain is used in ethanol production, and there are several ethanol plants located in Colorado.
One of ethanol production’s byproducts is distiller’s grains. Cattle and dairy feeders can use this byproduct in their rations, giving grain corn used in ethanol a secondary use.
Corn is an amazing plant, utilized in many different ways to make hundreds of products you use each and every day. Corn farmers continue to work day-in and day-out to increase the sustainability of corn through improved farming practices, responsible pesticide use, and increased efficiencies of our crop that feeds and fuels the world.