In Alberta we grow approximately 40,000 acres of grain corn, and the demand is growing…but it is considered a specialty crop here, and certainly not the norm. We just don’t have the heat units in Alberta to grow a good corn crop, but specialty breeds of corn seed which grow better in cooler weather has upped our corn crop acreage in our province. In the United States, the world’s largest producer of corn, the story is very different.
I had the great opportunity of experiencing corn harvest in the corn belt of the Midwest States a couple of weeks ago when I visited Illinois on the last leg of my Best Food Facts blogging group tour. I was so excited to visit a grain farm on this trip, being grain farmers ourselves, and to have my food blogger friends experience harvest — it’s the best and most exciting and stressful time of the year for grain farmers! My husband was very jealous that I got to experience corn harvest, it was quite something.
We drove about 1.5 hours southwest of Chicago and headed to Sheridan to visit Spirit Farms, which is a family-owned corn and soybean farm of about 6000 acres as well as a manure-spreading business. When you first drive onto the farm, your eye is automatically drawn to the 18 stories tall structure which includes a large grain drying bin and storage facility of up to 2.6 million bushels of grain.
John Stewart, who co-owns the business and farm with his wife Michelle, designed this building himself and it allows two semi trucks with B-trains to pull up simultaneously and empty their hoppers into the pit within 3 minutes. Later in the field I would find out why the efficient unloading time is so essential to this farm!
I cheated on our red combines and rode in a John Deere combine for the first time ever. I always wondered how combines could handle corn harvest, as corn can grow up to 15′ tall and it has thick and fibrous stalks with roots that grow down 3-5′! We’re used to combining crops like wheat that’s extremely gentle on our combines with an average height of 4′ and stalks that can be quite delicate. I was shocked at how smoothly and seamlessly the combine operated as he combined corn at about 4-5 mph, the same speeds we use.
This field was yielding about 160 bushels/acre when he said normally they do about 250 bu/ac. We had drought issues this year, while they had too much moisture. Even at a “mere” 160 bu/ac, I am used to combining crops that are about 4 times less that yield at 40-50 bu/ac, and I could not believe how fast the combine’s hopper would fill up! The field wasn’t that big, but after a pass and a half he had to stop and wait for the grain cart to come racing back to unload.
This corn was going to be used for ethanol, and an interesting fact about corn for ethanol from Iowa Corn, is that the 14.3 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2014, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 39.6 million metric tons, which is the equivalent of removing 8.4 million cars from the road.
I really enjoyed hearing Michelle speak about her family and her farm. I can tell that she’s a very passionate farm wife and farm mom, and I can relate to that a lot. A message that really hit home with me from her, which I hope stuck with my fellow bloggers too, was that even though they are a large farm and business and have 70 employees — they are still a family farm. Michelle pointed out, as is the same in Canada, that the number of farmers are decreasing, but the size of their farms is increasing and sometimes you need more help to run and manage all aspects of the farm than with just your family.
I loved seeing on their website that Spirit Farms follows one simple rule: to leave the land in better condition than what was found. My husband says this all the time. It’s truly amazing to see how two farms 1500-some miles apart can have the same values and be so passionate about their love affairs with the land.
I had such an amazing time and learned so much at Spirit Farms. Thank you for having me!