By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Following the gold

GAYS MILLS - I had the occasion recently to follow a big grain truck down a state highway for a few miles. It was probably full of shelled corn and headed to Prairie du Chien, where it would be loaded onto a barge for eventual shipment to parts unknown. My first thoughts were of the farmers who grew that grain and the multiple problems involved with farming in general these days and cash grain farming in particular.

But then my thoughts turned to the grain itself. Pulled by a semi, the huge, shiny aluminum gondola, or ‘hopper-bottom’ trailer, looked to be a 40 footer. That meant the capacity of the rig was 1,100 bushels of grain. A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds. So the trailer load weighed 61,600 pounds, nearly 31 tons.  

A typical corn crop yields 150 bushels per acre. It would take roughly seven-and-a-half acres to fill one big trailer like the one ahead. And seven-and-a-half acres is like a ‘pimple on a rhino’s rear end,’ when you consider the scale of the corn grown in the Corn Belt. Hence the number of grain trucks we see on the roads; that grain has to get to a market destination somehow unless it is used for feed on the farm where it’s raised. And Prairie du Chien is a de facto global, ocean port for Midwest grain bound for world markets.

One of those barges you see on the Mississippi holds 1,500 tons, or about 50 truckloads of grain.  And a 15-barge tow would hold 22,500 tons, 787,000 bushels, or about 750 jumbo truckloads. The shipping costs get markedly cheaper when the shipping is on water, especially when that water is flowing south anyway. 

Every seed in that load, every kernel of corn, was a form of life.  In fact, it was alive, though dormant, (unless it had been artificially dried) and would be able to sprout, grow and reproduce itself.  That thought amazed me.

An ear of corn has between 600 and 700 kernels of corn on it, always in an even number or rows. Many corn varieties produce more than one ear per plant. What a remarkably productive plant the modern corn plant is. Picture one ear of corn growing the seed for 700 new corn plants! The mathematics of the equation boggle the mind.

But wait, there’s more. A pound of corn contains around 1,300 kernels of corn. In that truck I was following, there were 80 plus million kernels of corn! That would be enough to plant 3,080 acres of corn at 20 pounds of seed per acre, a typical seeding rate.

I was starting to get a headache contemplating all the corn numbers, facts and figures. The truck with its golden cargo turned off ahead of me and I resumed my usual free-range thought as I drove along. But up ahead of me, what was that? I was now following a milk truck.   

Oh no.  Here we go again.