In terms of volume of production and value of harvest, corn is the most important field crop in the United States. It is found in a huge percentage of packaged consumer food products, and is also a main component in many animal feeds. The "Corn Belt" refers to the states that produce the most corn, including Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Indiana.
Unlike some fruits that continue to ripen after harvesting, corn must be at the greatest ripeness possible, while still allowing ease of mechanical harvest and minimizing damage to the kernels during processing. If the corn is not ripe enough, the product will be less than stellar as a fresh consumer good or raw material. A too-ripe crop increases the risk of kernel damage and loss to rot and insects.
Part of optimum ripeness determination lies in testing the kernel moisture content. The farmer hand picks several ears of corn, shells them and tests a few times out of the mixed kernels. Alternatively, she harvests a small portion of the grain with a combine, mix the kernels and test a few random samples. Harvesting of corn should take place at 15 to 18 percent moisture content, according to the University of Arkansas. The recommended moisture content at harvest-time varies depending on climate and corn sale trends.
A combine is a machine that harvests grain of all kinds, and there's specific kind used for corn. The corn is threshed by the combine, and the corn husks are discarded onto the ground. Then the grain is temporarily stored in a chamber inside the combine. Once the chamber is full, the grain is dumped into a truck bed or silo until it's sold.
Corn can be dried further either in open air or in a drying room utilizing electric drying machines. The cost of the drying apparatus, as well as time and energy to dry, encourages many farmers to harvest as late as possible to ensure optimum dryness prior to harvest.
Corn is taken to an elevator, where grain is communally stored. At the elevator, the truck is weighed prior to and following dumping the grain into the silo in order to determine the weight of the grain. From the elevator, the corn is sold to feed companies, corn syrup manufacturers and others.
- Photo Credit Corn image by DSL from Fotolia.com
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