What’s a Commodity Crop?

By: Erin Brenneman, Iowa Pig Farmer

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Have you ever wondered what a “commodity crop” is and how it’s used? Think corn, soybeans, cotton, and other crops that can be easily traded, stored for a long time, and grown in large quantities. For instance, when you think of cotton you don’t ask where it’s grown or what year it was harvested – it’s just “cotton.”  That’s what a commodity crop is.

Farmers grow commodity crops for many reasons, one of which is for use on their own farm. To give more insight from real farmers, we reached out to our Faces of Farming & Ranching to learn from them how commodity crops play a role on their farms. Thomas Titus, Erin Brenneman and Carla Wardin give us some insights.

On Thomas Titus’s farm, commodity crops are feed for his pigs and cattle. He tells us:

Where we farm in central Illinois, we are blessed with some of the most fertile and productive soil as well as an ideal growing season for a variety of crops. We primarily plant commodity crops, such as field corn, soybeans and occasionally oats and wheat. This diversification, along with our pig and cattle farms, allows us to provide a very diverse nutritional buffet to our animals. The majority of the corn we raise we will store in on-farm grain bins and be used to feed our pigs throughout the year. Then, to complete the cycle, we will incorporate the manure produced by the pig farm which is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, needed to grow the next year’s corn crop.

Every commodity crop we grow on our farm holds an important role jointly with our pigs and beef cattle from a nutritional source to winter bedding, which comes in pretty handy on these recent 8 degree days!

Similarly, Erin Brenneman also grows corn to feed her farm’s pigs. Erin shares:

“Corn, corn, corn, corn, corn, Iowa City, corn, corn, corn, Des Moines…” A parody song by Heywood Banks once described the great Interstate 80 that runs through Iowa as this. And it’s true!  Iowa is full of hard working farmers growing that beautiful crop, corn. Every summer you can watch those vast fields of deep green grow tassels and wave in the breeze. And to me there is no better sign of fall than when those fields begin to turn that golden brown.

A scene from Erin Brenneman’s farm

As pig farmers, corn is an extremely important part of our family. The feed that we give our pigs is made up of 60-70% corn. Local farmers bring their corn to our feed mill every single day of the year, at all hours of the day. We are always around to help new people learn our unloading system and assist them with any problems that they might have. We ourselves also grow around 3,000 acres of mostly corn every year. The amount that we grow in our fields would only feed our pigs for about 2-3 months so we rely heavily on the local famers to help us keep our pigs and feed bins full!

For Carla Wardin, her farm grows corn to feed her dairy cows. She explains:

Cows love to eat. And, since they’re big, they eat A LOT. On our farm they graze on pasture, but we also grow alfalfa and corn to feed them. In the generations we’ve been farming, corn has always been a valuable component of their diet. It’s a great source of energy, fiber and protein. It helps to balance their nutrition. Ever since I was little, I remember sitting on our porch with my mom and siblings, hoping that the spring wind would turn into a real rain. Now that it’s our farm, we’re always hoping the same – that the rain comes to nourish our beautiful little corn plants through the growing season.

Chopping the corn is always a festive time of year, too! We use the entire plant – stalk, leaves and ear.  It’s a time when all the hard work of the year – the planting, the fertilizing, the hoping-for-rain – comes to an end. It’s so satisfying to see the pile of chopped corn rising high, ready for the cows to eat all winter.

Do you have more questions about commodity crops? During our recent #FoodD Twitter chat, we received quite a few questions about farming & ranching and common food terms. The Twitter chat may be over but we’re always happy to help provide answers to your questions about how your food is grown and raised. Ask your questions anytime at http://www.fooddialogues.com/content/have-question.