As I travel across the state of Wisconsin in a Ford Explorer sponsored by the Wisconsin Corn Program, my car, Kernel, and I are especially thankful for corn. Most of the corn we see in fields is grain corn that is primarily used as feed for poultry, pigs and cows. However, grain corn is also used for ethanol, corn oil, cornstarch and other nonfood uses. Kernel is an E-85 flex-fuel vehicle powered by ethanol made from corn and other plants.
The type of corn used to make ethanol is No. 2 yellow. It is not the sweet corn or canned corn found in grocery stores, and only 3% of this type of corn goes directly into food products such as cornmeal, oil, syrup and starch. Ethanol also reduces the cost of fuel.
Ethanol is an alcohol produced by fermenting sugar and made when ground plant material is mixed with water and then fermented. This process takes about 70 hours from when the corn is ground to when it’s finished fermenting.
Producing ethanol requires yeast, a living organism, to aid in the fermentation process. This process, called microbial fermentation, works directly with sugars that are found in the starch and cellulose of plants like corn, sorghum and sugarbeets. Corn is the predominant crop used for ethanol production.
In 2020, Wisconsin corn growers harvested more than 516 million bushels of corn on 2.97 million acres.
Wisconsin’s nine ethanol plants produce more than 500 million gallons of ethanol each year, which makes Wisconsin the ninth-largest ethanol-producing state in the country. Thirty-seven percent of corn grown in Wisconsin is used in ethanol production. This industry generates $4.2 billion in economic activity and impacts more than 19,000 jobs.
In addition to being a key ingredient for producing ethanol, corn comes in a wide variety of types that each serve a different purpose. Grain corn is used as feed for cows, pigs and poultry, and to produce ethanol, corn oil, cornstarch and other non-food products. Corn silage is chopped and fermented before being fed directly to livestock. It is a consistent feed with high yields that provides high energy to livestock, and is an important forage for Wisconsin, as our state leads the nation in corn for silage. Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are soft and sweet. It can be purchased at grocery stores canned, frozen or fresh off the cob. Less than 1% of the U.S. corn crop is sweet corn for human consumption.
Wisconsin corn goes beyond the feed for our livestock, and it provides more than just fuel in our tanks. Wisconsin’s incredible corn industry is making a major impact on our state and our economy. Learn more about Wisconsin corn and its many uses at wicorn.org.
Nunes is the 74th Wisconsin Alice in Dairyland.