NCGA President Pam Johnson, a sixth-generation family farmer in Floyd, Iowa, sent the following response to after an article on corn farming by Jonathan Foley.

As a farmer, one of the many whom Jonathan Foley regards as "the hardest working people in America" and as "pillars of their communities," I would like to speak out about how today's corn farmers, their trade associations and others whom Foley has vilified have not only rethought the so-called "corn system," but are continually improving it.

Thanks to technology in the tractor and on the field, and smart agronomic practices like conservation tillage, things are only getting better. Here are a few thoughts from my field:

Versatility. Foley talks about the versatility of corn, and he's right. It's now in thousands of products. While some people don't like that, it makes perfect sense that we can produce a grain every year that meets all these needs.

Farming is not just about food. It provides the cotton and leather for clothing and the wood for housing and paper. And, yes, it provides field corn for fabrics and fuels as well as food and feed.

Efficiency. In 1932, corn farmers planted 113 million acres of corn, and harvested 2.6 billion bushels. This year, even with a record drought, we brought in 10.8 billion bushels on 97 million acres, the eighth largest corn crop ever.


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We are using the best seed genetics, technology and agronomic practices to produce a corn plant that maximizes the use of sunlight, water and nutrients. Another measure of efficiency: Americans spend less on food than anywhere in the world. Our store shelves are filled with a variety of healthy foods for all tastes and preferences.

Sustainability. This efficiency means we are using our inputs more wisely. Between 1980 and 2011, corn farmers decreased land use per bushel by 30 percent, soil erosion by 67 percent, irrigation by 53 percent, energy use by 43 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent.

A 2010 study from Stanford University says that advances in high-yield agriculture have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere — the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Another example of sustainability is ethanol, which provides a significant benefit when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases, compared to gasoline, of up to 59 percent.

Diversity. Corn farming is not a monolithic "system." Corn growers have a variety of different challenges to face and agronomic methods at their disposal. Farming in Florida will differ from farming in Illinois; in Minnesota, from Texas; in Oregon, from Virginia.