There are different factors that play a role in where corn ends up after it is harvested. One of the most important is the type of corn that is being harvested. Field corn, the bulk of the corn grown in the U.S., is a hardy species ideal for feeding livestock and ethanol production. It can also be added to a staggering array of food products like cornstarch or corn syrup.
The current market price may also influence where corn ends up after harvest. Some farmers choose to store their corn until the price rises and then sell it. Once ready to be sold, corn is usually shipped in large trucks or in containers on trains as it heads to its final destination. The corn is then either used right away or stored again until it is needed. A third factor is moisture content. Corn with high moisture content may need to be stored in an airtight silo to prevent spoilage. Cooler weather and lower moisture extend the time it can be safely stored.
When field corn meets specific quality standards, it may be considered food-grade and fit for human consumption, which are often white corn. These kernels need a high starch content and test weight as well as low moisture and minimal stress cracks.
The kernels are cleaned and sorted by size using another process called “scalping.” First, a grain cleaner shakes the corn to remove any dirt or debris. Then, a series of screens sorts the corn by kernel size. Kernels that are too small or damaged are removed and set aside for animal feed while the larger, healthier kernels move on to the next step in the process, grit removal.
During grit removal, the corn kernels are cleaned and sorted again to remove any small pieces of cob or other debris that may have been missed during scalping. The corn is passed through a series of screens and air blowers that remove the smaller pieces. What’s left is a corn kernel that is clean, whole and ready to be used in a variety of food products.
The next time you’re enjoying a delicious recipe with corn or filling up your gas tank with an ethanol blend, take a moment to think about all the steps that had to happen to get that corn from the field to your plate or car! It’s an amazing process happening right here in Nebraska, and farmers have a vital part to play.