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Corn, also known as maize, is a cereal grain that was domesticated in Mesoamerica as many as 10,000-12,000 years ago. Corn is a member of the grass family and grew wild in what is modern-day Mexico. Native Americans grew corn as a crop and fertilized the seed by planting it with a decaying fish. The fish contained nitrogen, which corn needs for good growth.
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Content Preview
Commodity Fact Sheet
Information compiled by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom
How Produced – The most abundant variety of corn grown in
Varieties – More than 95% of U.S. corn acreage planted is hybrid
the United States is dent corn. In California, dent corn is planted
corn. Hybridization is a breeding process used to improve plant
each spring and is often double cropped – with a second planting
characteristics and increase yield. Hybrid varieties were devel-
occuring in the summer. Seeds are planted
oped to adapt to specific growing conditions
approximately two inches deep either into
and locations, and they are continually be-
moist, flat ground that is formed into seed-
ing improved through biotechnology and
beds after the seed germinates, or into
Upper Leaves
breeding efforts. Biotechnology includes a
pre-formed seedbeds that are irrigated
number of technologies, which use living
until germination occurs.
organisms (such as microbes, plants, or
fungi) to produce useful products and
The corn plant has a stalk, and “ears”
Ear of Corn
services. Biotech corn offers in-plant
of corn grow where the leaves join
protection from insects and herbicides,
the stalk. An ear consists of a corncob
reduced need for plowing, and higher crop
covered with rows of kernels (800 kernels
yields. In 2006, 61% of U.S. corn acreage
on average). Each kernel is a seed that
was planted with biotech seed.
can grow into a new plant. Leaves, called
husks, protect each ear.
Commodity Value – The U.S. produces
nearly 40% of the world’s corn. Corn is
A tassel (the male plant-part) at the Lower
America’s most important cash crop, with
top of a cornstalk contains hundreds of
more than 70 million harvested acres
small flowers that produce pollen, which
Prop Root
generating a crop value of $33.71 billion in
is distributed by wind and gravity to
(or Seed)
2006. The leading U.S. corn export
the thread-like silks of the ears. The silks
markets are Japan, South Korea and
are connected to the female part of the
Mexico. Most of California’s corn crop is
plant. Each silk will carry pollen to a spot on a developing ear
harvested to use as silage, which is fed to dairy cows and
and produce a kernel.
other ruminant animals. Silage is the feed produced by the
fermentation of a crop, and is made from the entire plant, not
Stalks can grow from seven to 12 feet tall. Corn is harvested
just the grain.
with a combine from August through September. The combine
strips the husks and removes the kernels from each ear.
Top Producing Counties – California produces 18% of the
nation’s sweet corn, ranking number two in the U.S. In 2006,
History – Corn, also known as maize, is a cereal grain that
23,700 acres of sweet corn were harvested, valued at $84.7
was domesticated in Mesoamerica as many as 10,000-12,000
million. In 2006, California harvested 113,000 acres of corn
years ago. Corn is a member of the grass family and grew
for grain, valued at $62.9 million. In 2006, the state harvested
wild in what is modern-day Mexico. Native Americans grew corn
460,000 acres of corn for silage. The leading counties in 2006
as a crop and fertilized the seed by planting it with a decaying
for corn production were Imperial for sweet corn, San Joaquin
fish. The fish contained nitrogen, which corn needs for good
for grain corn, and Tulare for silage corn.
growth. The earliest known ears of corn were tiny, but centuries
of breeding – first by Native Americans, then by early settlers,
Nutritional Value – Corn has four major elements: starch,
and later by modern scientists – resulted in bigger, fuller ears of
protein, oil and fiber. One cup of white corn has 130 calories,
corn and has made corn one of the world’s three leading grain
two grams of fat, five grams of protein, 29 grams of
carbohydrates, four grams of fiber and no cholesterol. Oil from
the germ or embryo of the kernel is rich in the antioxidants lutein
Today, corn is cultivated on every continent except Antarctica.
and zeanthin, which are associated with a lower risk of chronic
The three types of corn grown for human consumption are dent
diseases. Fructose (from cornstarch) is a sweetener that helps
corn (grain), sweet corn (vegetable) and popcorn (food snack).
the body utilize protein.
Dent corn is primarily used as feed for animals, but is also
processed into thousands of items: starch (baby food, salad
For additional information:
dressing, glue); corn syrup (soda, gum, fireworks, adhesives);
National Corn Growers Association
dextrose (bakery goods, fruit juices, peanut butter, antibiotics);
632 Cepi Drive
and oil (margarine, chips, soup, soap, paint). Today’s scientists
Chesterfield, MO 63005
have even developed a new source of fuel from corn called
(636) 733-9004 Fax (636) 733-9005
Web site:
This is one in a series of fact sheets composed by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC). For additional educational
materials: CFAITC, 2300 River Plaza Drive, Sacramento, CA 95833-3293 (916) 561-5625 (800) 700-AITC Fax: (916) 561-5697
E-Mail: Web Site: ©2008 California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. All rights reserved.

Corn Activity Sheet
A historical look at corn improvement
< 5,000 B.C.
Early 1800s
Mid 1900s
Early farmers domesticated wild
When Europeans started to settle along the eastern coast of
Corn yields and quality improve through
plants by saving the seeds from
North America, two races (varieties) of corn dominated in this
crossbreeding and hybridization. Crops are
the best plants and planting them
region – the Northern Flints and the Southern Dents. Settlers
developed that contain built-in protection
as next year's crops. This is the
cross-pollinated these two races and created the Corn Belt Dents, against insect pests, disease causing
earliest form of genetic modification. the ancestor of nearly al the corn hybrids in the United States.
organisms and harsh environmental conditions.
5,000 B.C. - 1500s A.D.
1870 - 1890
Present Day
Native Americans improved on
Wil iam James Beal produced
Hybrid corn is commercialized by Henry Wal ace Plant breeders can precisely
corn farming by selectively
the first experimental corn
in the 1920s. Growing hybrid corn eliminated the
select single genes that
sowing seeds from plants with
hybrid in a laboratory. need to save seeds because the increased yields produce desired traits, such
preferred characteristics for the
outweighed the increased costs of annual seed
as insect resistance and
next year's crop. Set lers from
purchases. By 1945 hybrid corn accounted for
herbicide tolerance.
Europe begin breeding corn.
78 percent of U.S. grown corn.
The corn you buy in the store is different from the plant that scientists believe corn originated from thousands of years ago. The most prevalent scientific
theory is that corn was first developed from a wild grass called teosinte and looked much like grass and not the golden vegetable so many people love
today. Early civilizations created corn hybrids by cross-pollinating plants from different varieties.
Lesson Ideas
Corn Fun Facts
- Read "Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition"
1. Name the male part of the plant that contains
by Sally M. Hunter.
hundreds of small flowers.
- Research how different cultures incorporate corn into
2. Where was corn domesticated 10,000-12,000 years
their cuisine.
- Draw a poster showing some of the past and present
3. How tall can one cornstalk grow?
dangers known to threaten corn crops. (Drought in
4. Name the breeding process that is used to improve
many parts of the world – especially Africa, locusts
characteristics of the plant.
5. What percentage of the world's corn is produced by
grasshoppers, corn borers, etc).
the United States?
- On a U.S. map, identify the states that grow corn. Color 6. Name the county that leads the state in the production
them yellow.
of non-human consumption of corn.
- Compare the nutritional value of corn to other
7. Name the four elements of corn.
commodities like rice or cantaloupe.
8. Name an alternative fuel that is derived from corn.
- Research the large array of products made with corn.
Make a Corn Products display that organizes these
1) Tassel 2) Mesoamerica 3) 7-12 feet 4) Hybridization 5) 40 percent
6) Tulare 7) Starch, Protein, Oil, Fiber 8) Ethanol
Lesson Plan: Growing up with Corn
Introduction: In this experiment students will observe
and 3-4 cotton bal s. Put the cotton bal s in the
the way a corn plant grows and moves towards light.
container. Plant one kernel in the moist cotton
Cal ed phototropism, this occurrence is actual y the
ball on each of the four sides of the dish or bag.
result of increased cel division and growth in the area
of the plant that does not receive direct light. The
2. Tape the bags or Petri dishes to the wal in
lopsided growth causes the plant to bend towards
various places around the classroom and in
varying degrees of light.
Materials: A Petri dish or sealable plastic bag with
3. Observe how the plant grows, how many days it
holes punched at the top, enough for one per group;
takes to germinate and how long the roots grow.
popcorn kernels; absorbent cotton balls; packing tape.
Have students document which emerges first, the
roots or stem, and which way the roots and stems
grow. Discuss with the students why the plant
1. Break students into groups and give each group
grew that way.
four kernels of corn, one Petri dish (or plastic bag)
This is one in a series of fact sheets composed by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC). For additional educational
materials: CFAITC, 2300 River Plaza Drive, Sacramento, CA 95833-3293 (916) 561-5625 (800) 700-AITC Fax: (916) 561-5697
E-Mail: Web Site: ©2008 California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. All rights reserved.




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