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  • Corn currently accounts for more than one tenth of our global crop production.

  • The United States alone has enough cornfields to cover Germany.

  • But while other crops we grow come in a range of varieties,

  • over 99% of cultivated corn is the exact same type: Yellow Dent #2.

  • This means that humans grow more Yellow Dent #2

  • than any other plant on the planet.

  • So how did this single variety of this single plant

  • become the biggest success story in agricultural history?

  • Nearly 9,000 years ago, corn, also called maize,

  • was first domesticated from teosinte, a grass native to Mesoamerica.

  • Teosinte's rock-hard seeds were barely edible,

  • but its fibrous husk could be turned into a versatile material.

  • Over the next 4,700 years, farmers bred the plant into a staple crop,

  • with larger cobs and edible kernels.

  • As maize spread throughout the Americas, it took on an important role,

  • with multiple indigenous societies revering a “Corn Mother

  • as the goddess who created agriculture.

  • When Europeans first arrived in America, they shunned the strange plant.

  • Many even believed it was the source of physical and cultural differences

  • between them and the Mesoamericans.

  • However,

  • their attempts to cultivate European crops in American soil quickly failed,

  • and the settlers were forced to expand their diet.

  • Finding the crop to their taste, maize soon crossed the Atlantic,

  • where its ability to grow in diverse climates made it a popular grain

  • in many European countries.

  • But the newly established United States was still the corn capital of the world.

  • In the early 1800's, different regions across the country

  • produced strains of varying size and taste.

  • In the 1850's, however,

  • these unique varieties proved difficult for train operators to package,

  • and for traders to sell.

  • Trade boards in rail hubs like Chicago encouraged corn farmers

  • to breed one standardized crop.

  • This dream would finally be realized at 1893's World's Fair,

  • where James Reid's yellow dent corn won the Blue Ribbon.

  • Over the next 50 years, yellow dent corn swept the nation.

  • Following the technological developments of World War II,

  • mechanized harvesters became widely available.

  • This meant a batch of corn that previously took a full day to harvest by hand

  • could now be collected in just 5 minutes.

  • Another wartime technology, the chemical explosive ammonium nitrate,

  • also found new life on the farm.

  • With this new synthetic fertilizer,

  • farmers could plant dense fields of corn year after year,

  • without the need to rotate their crops and restore nitrogen to the soil.

  • While these advances made corn an attractive crop to American farmers,

  • US agricultural policy limited the amount farmers could grow

  • to ensure high sale prices.

  • But in 1972, President Richard Nixon removed these limitations

  • while negotiating massive grain sales to the Soviet Union.

  • With this new trade deal and WWII technology,

  • corn production exploded into a global phenomenon.

  • These mountains of maize inspired numerous corn concoctions.

  • Cornstarch could be used as a thickening agent for everything from gasoline to glue

  • or processed into a low-cost sweetener known as High-Fructose Corn Syrup.

  • Maize quickly became one of the cheapest animal feeds worldwide.

  • This allowed for inexpensive meat production,

  • which in turn increased the demand for meat and corn feed.

  • Today, humans eat only 40% of all cultivated corn,

  • while the remaining 60% supports consumer good industries worldwide.

  • Yet the spread of this wonder-crop has come at a price.

  • Global water sources are polluted by excess ammonium nitrate from cornfields.

  • Corn accounts for a large portion of agriculture-related carbon emissions,

  • partly due to the increased meat production it enables.

  • The use of high fructose corn syrup may be a contributor to diabetes and obesity.

  • And the rise of monoculture farming

  • has left our food supply dangerously vulnerable to pests and pathogens

  • a single virus could infect the world's supply of this ubiquitous crop.

  • Corn has gone from a bushy grass

  • to an essential element of the world's industries.

  • But only time will tell if it has led us into a maze of unsustainability.

Corn currently accounts for more than one tenth of our global crop production.

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B2 US TED-Ed corn crop maize dent plant

The history of the world according to corn - Chris A. Kniesly

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    adfdff posted on 2019/12/01
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