My year as Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador is off to a corny start. Kernel, my flex-fuel Ford Explorer, and I have quickly added up over 5,000 miles as we’ve crisscrossed the state promoting agriculture. Kernel is sponsored by the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, and is fittingly decorated with ears of corn. Wherever I go, Kernel helps to spark conversations about our Wisconsin corn and ethanol industries. Corn grown in Wisconsin is one of our state’s most versatile crops. Fields are planted to feed our communities, our animals, and to fuel our cars.

In 2017, Wisconsin harvested 54,500 acres of sweet corn. Sweet corn is the corn we humans enjoy fresh every summer. Corn on the cob has always been one of my favorite summer foods, except for the summer between seventh and eighth grade. That summer, I quickly found out that braces and sweet corn are highly incompatible. I had to settle for corn off-the-cob those months, which was just not the same. Since my whole family loves fresh sweet corn, we freeze bags of corn each summer to enjoy all year round. “Corn day” as we called it was always a full morning of work. We would gather as a family, everyone assigned a job. The kids sat on the porch to husk the corn, grandpa and dad cut the corn off the cob, and mom and grandma cooked, seasoned, and bagged the corn for the freezer. Together, we made enough bags of sweet corn to last our families until next year.

Surprisingly, less than one percent of the U.S. corn crop is sweet corn for human consumption. Most of the corn that you see in fields along the road is grain corn. Grain corn is used to feed poultry, pigs, and cows. Grain corn is also used for ethanol, corn oil, cornstarch, and other non-food uses. Did you know, grain corn is even used to produce spark plugs and tennis shoes? In 2017, Wisconsin harvested 3.2 million acres of corn for grain. This ranks Wisconsin amongst the Top 10 corn-growing states in the nation.

Over the past 30 years, ethanol made from corn has become an increasingly important fuel in Wisconsin. Our state is home to nine ethanol plants that produce more than 500 million gallons of fuel a year. This ethanol is used to fuel all of our vehicles in Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, ethanol is now found in all ‘regular’ gasoline in Wisconsin because of its clean air benefit. Biofuels like corn-based ethanol are a renewable replacement for petroleum-based fuels. A study done by the University of Nebraska found that ethanol reduces direct-effect greenhouse-gas emissions by 59 percent compared to gasoline. Not only is ethanol better for our environment, but also helps keep fuel dollars here in our state.

Uses for Wisconsin corn truly are numerous, and the benefits of our crop reach well beyond our state’s boarder. Exports of corn and corn products added $735.4 million in value to the Wisconsin economy in 2015, according to a study commissioned by the National Corn Growers Association. Wisconsin corn fuels our bodies, our livestock, our cars and our state’s economy.

Alice in Dairyland Abigail Martin can be reached at DATCP, 2811 Agriculture Drive, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI 53718 or DATCPAlice@wisconsin.gov.