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A Corny Story

Thanksgiving went off without a hitch, including the spatchcocking of the turkey, which not only resulted in the desired moistness of the meat but enabled me to use the word "spatchcock" roughly 175 times over the course of the afternoon and evening.

Finally, my corn story ran! I thought they'd hold it until the next harvest.

NEVADA, Iowa -- To say that corn is king around here is to come close to demoting it. In the last couple of weeks, the farmers of this state finished harvesting an astonishing 14 million acres of corn, which is more than a third of Iowa's surface. The yield: nearly 2 1/2 billion bushels. That's about 420 billion ears of corn, or about 225 trillion kernels.

A phone call to Tim Recker, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, found him in his combine, harvesting the last of a bumper crop.

"I got 225-bushel corn that I'm doing right now, which is phenomenal," Recker said by cellphone from a field near the town of Arlington. That's 225 bushels per acre. For a corn farmer, that's living in the tall cotton.

And yet, despite the fabulous harvest and the boom in ethanol made from corn, corn farmers often sound beleaguered and aggrieved. Corn, they say, has been getting a bad rap.

"You have to wear a flak jacket," said Bill Couser, who farms 5,000 acres here in the central Iowa town of Nevada (pronounced ne-VAY-da). "When we planted this crop, people said we were the villains of the world."

This mundane plant, once arguably dull as dirt, its name useful as an adjective ("corny") to describe something kind of lame and hillbillyish, has become improbably controversial. The gist of the criticism: So much corn, doing so many things, serving as both food and fuel, and backed by billions of dollars in government subsidies, has been bad for America and the rest of the world.

Start with food prices. Corn and its derivatives are in thousands of items sold at a typical grocery store, and corn is trading on the market at about twice the price it was just a couple of years ago. There are ripple effects everywhere. More acres in corn mean fewer in soybeans, and so soybean prices are also up. Soybean extracts are all over the grocery store, too.

Meanwhile, there are ethanol skeptics. They say production of ethanol has outpaced the infrastructure -- flex-fuel cars, for example -- for using it. A 51-cent-a-gallon federal subsidy to ethanol blenders helps keep the ethanol market commercially viable.

Environmentalists decry the impact on soil, waterways and wildlife of so much acreage planted in vast tracts of a thirsty, fertilizer-hungry plant. Tens of thousands of acres in Iowa once set aside for conservation were plowed this year for corn. The Iowa landscape is a patchwork of corn and soybean monocultures, with about as much biodiversity as a bachelor's refrigerator.

Corn, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, is even accused of causing the national obesity epidemic.

A new documentary that skewers corn, "King Corn," has won rave reviews. And corn plays a starring, and nefarious, role in a recent book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," in which author Michael Pollan reveals that, at the molecular level, Americans have ingested so many corn-derived substances that we are essentially walking corn chips.

Recently Jean Ziegler, the United Nations expert on the "right to food," called the diversion of food crops to biofuels a "crime against humanity." The United Nations later distanced itself from those remarks. But they were already in the wind in corn country, where farmers, up to their eyeballs in corn, are wondering what exactly they have done wrong.

[Click here to keep reading the story.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 23, 2007; 7:47 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Guest Kit: Ode to Autumn
Next: Mercury News Reponds; Plus Campaign Trail Blather and Turkey Chili Thoughts


Congrats on the front page above the fold story, Joel!

Posted by: yellojkt | November 23, 2007 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Good moring, friends. I've been up for some time, but just getting to the computer.

I read the kit about corn. Is it safe to eat something that can be used in your car? That doesn't sound good. I know corn is in everything one buys, especially processed foods. I like corn, but too much of anything isn't good. The guy doing all of this sounds like he wants corn grown all over the country. I guess if we can cut down on inhaling so much gas it is a good thing.

I still have some dinner left. Will probably consume that some time today. I'm still sleepy. I just might go back to bed.

And it is so cold outside. The warmth of yesterday is a memory now. Time to put on more clothes.

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 23, 2007 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I went to relatives for Thanksgiving and came back with an uneaten pumpkin pie as part of the distribution of the leftovers. Made for a great breakfast.

Sourkraut and turkey is a Bawlmer thing. I think I've had it once or twice.

At my company picnic, in addition to the burgers and franks, they had grilled portobello burgers. Delicious! Not sure tofurkey shrooms sounds as good. I'm not sure what has kicked off this adolescent vegetarian fad, but I see a lot of kids go through that phase. Fortunately, most outgrow it.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 23, 2007 9:09 AM | Report abuse

The postprandial movie yesterday was Spiderman 3, markedly inferior to either earlier one and just enough of Fantastic Four to see Jessica Alba in her undies. For an actress that claims to want to be taken seriously, she has a hard time keeping her clothes on. Not that I'm complaining.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 23, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Reposted from previous:
Good morning, all.

I *am* going shopping today, but only at the grocery store.

As greenie points out, today's a good day for college football - #1 LSU's on at 2:30 PM EST today.

I see that the Caps have fired their head coach, Glen Hanlon. So it goes in the NHL (shouldn't it be the IHL?).

Re. Joel's corn article: I think it would have been worth mentioning the arguments regarding the ethanol energy cycle. Some experts believe that the total ethanol production cycle takes more energy than it produces, and that it's unsustainable on large scales in the long run.

I'm no expert, but I do have some practical experience with ethanol and methanol as fuel for race cars and karts. It works very well as long as I remember that it's *not* gasoline, and make sure I care for the fuel system properly (e.g. flush it out when not in use).

I wonder if those folks on that cruise ship paid for iceberg insurance...


Posted by: bc | November 23, 2007 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Front page of the paper Post!? Nice.

If I remember correctly, what Pollan spotted was that the fats and oils we eat are building blocks for the membranes (and fat deposits) in our own cells. Eat fish, you're made of fish oil. Corn, ditto. The Mexica (Aztecs) ate lots of corn, with squash, beans, avocados, and tomatoes. Were they made of avocado oil with a bit of corn on the side?

I'd like to see Iowa transmorgrified into a quasi-prairie with a variety of native grasses and herbs, periodically mowed to yield biomass (fancy word for hay) that can be made into fuel, possibly using fermentation or direct chemical methods that haven't yet been developed. One professor to ask would be David Tilman at the University of Minnesota. Also Ford Runge, same place.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 23, 2007 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Mushroom burgers make sense. Mushrooms have plenty of "umami" flavor, like meat (and also like tomatoes. No accident that one variety is named "beefsteak").

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 23, 2007 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Sunshine, on his shoulders, made me happy
Sunshine--the view from--made me cry
Sunshine, with his saddle, looked so lovely
Sunshine, on the trail ride, made me high.

I was very, very lucky yesterday. There was one horse available for the last trail ride of the day, just before sunset. The time on horseback was the best part of the entire day, besides the delicious food. All of my fellow riders were so quiet, the valley scene so hushed, the wind cold and brisk, the longhorns quietly grazing, the sky full of gray streaks and subdued drama.

My horse's name? Sunshine!

Posted by: Loomis | November 23, 2007 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Morning folks... where are our Canadian friends this morning?

Another delicious veggie "burger" is thickly sliced eggplant, peeled and marinated and grilled. Mmmm good.

We served lunch to the drama kids one "tech day" that included vegetarian tofu "hot dogs." They smelled so bad that I would gag every time I opened the pot to dish one out for someone. Needless to say we threw most of them out.

Time to put the turkey carcass on for soup. My bro-in-law handed the bag to me on our way out of their house yesterday. That's the benefit of having two turkeys... two households get soup!

Posted by: TBG | November 23, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

*Repost from previous boodle*

Morning Boodle. Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving.

I am almost ready for Grey Cup weekend I spent most of my evening building a TV stand for the birthday present I got myself (but was not expecting to recieve until next week; but came in yesterday afternoon), a brand new TV. I couldn't find anything I liked, so I went down to the local Home Hardware and picked up some lumber and screws. It took me 2 hours to get it built to my design (and cost less than half the price of one of those cruddy store boughts).

In a hapenning so astounding that my father would be proud of, once I got it inside and set in place, I took my level to find out where to shim up, and found that I didn't need a bit. Dead level first try! How that happened, I don't know. I am not a carpenter by any means.

Now all I need is to run a cable line to it and I'll be all set for GreenRR Sunday.

Posted by: Kerric | November 23, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

*faxin' Kerric a gold star for a job well done*


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Morning all, I am here, had to get up early to go to the dentist. In prebooking the appointment is seemed like a great idea, 8:00 am appointment and I can still get to work on time. Just forgot it is November, beautifully sunny today but cold - really did help get me in the mood to visit the dentist.

DotC, hopefully this company and others can speed up the process for cellulose ethanol.

Posted by: dmd | November 23, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

SCC happening

Stupid fingers worked the double letter on the wrong key

Posted by: Kerric | November 23, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Joel, Joel, Joel. There is *NO* such thing as "an overabundence of leftover turkey.* Silly man. Might as well complain about too much air to breath.

But glad the spatchcocking went well. I'll have to try it next time. The brining also went well; you'll have to give that a try some time. One assumes the perfectionist Weingarten was sated; otherwise I'm sure we'll hear/read about it. (We may hear/read about it anyway.) Although I imagine he had a thing or two dozen to say about both the technique of spatchcocking as well as the word itself.

Uh oh. TBG's right. It IS quiet along the northern marches. Wonder what they're up to...

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 23, 2007 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Thanks S'nuke. I also learned something verrry important about working with pine. Predrill. Every. Screw. Period. I am so glad I bought extra lumber.

Posted by: Kerric | November 23, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Given all that snow they've been talking about, 'Mudge, I'd say they're making snowballs.

We can't allow a snowball gap to develop!!!

*faxin' a blizzard request to Mt. Washington Observatory*


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I can just imagine Joel's corporate masters handing him a plane ticket and a mandate to write an interesting article about corn. And, unsurprisingly, he did.

There are so many powerful economic and political forces behind corn ethanol. I just hope that the corn bandwagon doesn't outstrip the science behind it.

Happy Black Friday everyone. Remember, because of complicated permutations of the gravitational constant induced by changes in dark energy, common household scales tend to read a little heavy today.

Yeah. That's it.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 23, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

nothing. we're doing nothing. hear me. nothing. I swear.

/whisper the blue dog rises at noon

Posted by: Kerric | November 23, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Kerric's genetic roots are filled with men with tools and square eyes on both sides of his family. Level is in his blood.

SD, thankyou. Scotty, may I borrow the fax? SD needs some green to cover up that blue and gold he was sporting.

We don't know why they do this but it probably has to do with the beer, and a shortage of green helmets.

Posted by: dr | November 23, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

An article for the Cdn Westerners, a perfect combo of green pride and laughing at whimpy Torontians.

Posted by: dmd | November 23, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

A particularly poignant quiz today...


I claim a certain inability to read the questions clearly. And triptophan, of course.

*weak smile*

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

The invasion has started, and you can read out it in the Mpls. Star Tribune. Beware, they have allies:

Posted by: frostbitten | November 23, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

SCC: read about it, or should that be "read aboot it?"

Posted by: frostbitten | November 23, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

And in the "Almost a Nice Idea" category...

*rolling my eyes*

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I hope when the invasion is complete our Canadian friends here will remember our kindness and treat us thusly.

To paraphrase Ken Brockman from the Simpsons, "I bow to our Canadian warlords."

Posted by: TBG | November 23, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

9/10, I know my cats although I'm allergic to the darn things. And yes we have one, the infamous Liquid Cat.

No bother dr, I stand a better chance of winning anyway.

bc, mudge, the Times has a good pics of the sinking MV Explorer. The pumps seem to keep up with the intake, but for how long?

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 23, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Good Morning.
I see Mr. Achenbach has repeated the calumny about the lack of biodiversity in bachelors' refrigerators after I pointed out his error and supplied new data. While this is disappointing and vexing I cannot find enough umbrage for even a minor snit. So I have decided to let it go.
This time.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 23, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

8/10 I'm taking the coffee deprivation exemption for one of them. What kind of nut would choose Mexican Hairless as a Canadian developed cat breed? Sheesh, they're not even cats.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 23, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

hmm, invasion seems to have hit a little bump, congestion at the border.

Posted by: dmd | November 23, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

You won't even know it happened. TBG. We'll be gentle. We promise.

Posted by: dr | November 23, 2007 10:35 AM | Report abuse

SCC: Kent Brockman

Posted by: TBG | November 23, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Dinner aboard the Great Escape comprised turkey; the carving and simultaneous instruction of the young captain on this fine manly art fell upon me. "Make this horizontal cut towards the end of the bird. Its purpose is unknown, but it looks authoritative, and no one will mess with you if you begin in this manner. Then begin carving the breast." As well, the captain's mother began slipping the cooked organ meats to the dogs before the giblet lovers could react. We howled but were simply too late. As usual. (My side of the family wants those bits in the gravy; hers does not, and she never remembers the Solution: dual gravies, one with giblets, one without.) As one who agrees there is no such thing as too much leftover turkey, I will be cooking another this weekend at Jumper's house, full course traditional, and also foresee turkey tacos towards the end of the week.

Posted by: Jumper | November 23, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

7/10 not bad seeing as I know nothing really about cats, other than they are nice to pet and they purr.

Posted by: Kerric | November 23, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if 'Mudge has put a bid in yet?


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Did I kill the boodle? Or is everyone out shopping?

Posted by: Kerric | November 23, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Not sure, I was beginning to wonder if we had been successful in shutting down their communication system :-).

Posted by: dmd | November 23, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

8/10 on cats. And Kerric, you know all there is to know about cats! (And I've had cats around for over 40 years.)

Posted by: nellie | November 23, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I've actually been following the lighthouse auctions over the past few years, Scotty, and have pondered once in a while...I'm just crazy enough to do it. But alas, the funds...

But I know one thing: if I bought Point No Point, it'd be renamed right quick. Whaddaya think? Curmudgeon Point? Boodle Point? Spatchcock Lighthouse has a nice nautical ring to it. (I've cruised past PNP a time or three, though. Yes, it's a fixer-upper.)

7/10 on the cat quiz, including two or three wild guesses. But the intro sentence is clearly wrong about cats being a friend of man for several centuries. It's gotta be millenia.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 23, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

And it must be the shopping.

Posted by: nellie | November 23, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Oh c'mon 'Mudge, it'd be Blue Bottom Point and you know it!


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Joel's article today reminded me of a girl I dated back in college, (chemistry major), from Texas, upon being irritated by a slow driving motorist, would honk and yell, "Move it or milk it!"

Over 20 years ago, I'd say she was a little ahead of her time.

Posted by: at | November 23, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I wasn't going to answer the quiz today as I do not know a lot about cats, but I managed 8/10. My sister had a hairless cat, very strange looking creature.

Posted by: dmd | November 23, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

10/10 on the quiz and I deserved it. I'm usually pathetic on those things.

Posted by: Yoki | November 23, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Hard to imagine you being pathetic at any thing in any way, Yoki!

Posted by: dbG | November 23, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I posted a culinary comments on Joel's two cents to annoy him. I however forget to season the turkey velouté with salt, pepper and maybe chervil and savory. Most Boodlers are kitchen-savvy enough to make the correction themselves, right?

Posted by: ShriekingDenizen | November 23, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

The 11:49 was me. I just got FIOS, which means that according to Verizon, I can boodle at the speed of light. Maybe more than I can handle!

The fiber guy came over on Wednesday and was supposed to occupy a time slot between 12:00 and 4:00. He got here early and left after 7:00 with another project to do afterwards.

I've met more people from East Africa in the past month than I've met in the last few years, and they all reported loving Thanksgiving Day in America!

And lastly, I just got in from dismantling the garden. I harvested enough cold-curing hot peppers for another year. Yeah! Here's to everybody's helth!

Posted by: Pat | November 23, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Yay for light-speed Pat!!!


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Glad everyone's Thanksgiving dinners were so rewarding. Against my better judgement and previous pronouncements to the contrary, I attempted Black Friday shopping. I was too late for any of the goodies at Staples, which apparently disappear 30 seconds after the store opens. (I was 2.5 hours after that point, so what did I expect?) Then discovered I could have bought the same stuff online. But I was too late for that, since I had spent all that time at the store! I'm going to do something less frustrating now, like go to the DMV.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 23, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Howdy, y'all. I finally turned on the heaters this morning - it got down to 16 (F) last night and the house was a wee bit chilly. I guess maybe it is going to be winter after all.

No shopping here. I celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by not shopping. It works well.

I think there are some folks trying to make Oklahoma into a large mowable bio-diverse prairie, to be used for cellulose ethanol after they figure out how to make it. It sounds like a good idea to me. We started out as a large bio-diverse prairie, before the wheat farmers plowed it all under.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 23, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Online has its own line-holders, Raysmom. I was online at 3:30 a.m. (working, truly) and all the bargain-priced monitors I tried to snag (several different sites) were all already sold out. Correction: I could order online and drive >40 miles to pick one up.

Posted by: dbG | November 23, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I tried the quiz. It was pathetic. Reeeealy pathetic.

Our cat was supposed to go with one of my sons as they moved out. All of a sudden , they were gone and I still had the cat. He's ok, but he like's the oldests girlfriend better than he likes me.

Five or six years ago, I asked Kerric if he would keep the cat, and being the very smart man he is looked at me with a deep sigh, and said 'I can barely take care of myself. No way can I take care of a cat.'

Kerric, if you are building furniture, maybe you can take care of Cat now? (Not really. Cat is 13 and too old and used to his comforts to move to a new home)

Posted by: dr | November 23, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Have we mentioned the New Year's Day primary yet?


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Thinking of winter weather wimpiness, Wyoming was kind of a nice winter place because it was (normally) so cold. Nice, hard snow. No melting ice. Sometimes you thought the stuff simply sublimated.

Then again, I was once stuck in Denver for several days because the Cody airport had a snowstorm. The town averaged something like 12 inches of precipitation a year with a pronounced rainy season in May, so the airport was unprepared for snow that wouldn't blow away or disappear in the dry nightly wind off the Absarokas.

I think I can hear the sound of Europeans plundering Orlando in the distance.

On the coontie front, a south Florida park manager explained the other day that the big coontie population next to their office had been discovered by the rare Atala butterfly, whose caterpillars had eaten almost every last leaf. It says something about the former abundance of this little cycad that it hosts its very own butterfly.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 23, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Hi, everyone. Moving slowly this morning - and only 6/10 on the quiz - I'm so ashamed!

Linda Loo, I'm glad you got to go horseback riding. What a great way to spend Thanksgiving.

No early bird shopping for me. Mr Ml went a little while ago in search of half price socks and flannel sheets. And he's just going to the local grocery/department store, not a mall.

Posted by: mostlylurking | November 23, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Joel's Trail piece is very good:
Although I see a lot of you have already been over there.

Posted by: mostlylurking | November 23, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

7/10 on the cat quiz and I don't even like them. Time for a bike ride. Back in an hour or so.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 23, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

There's a certain corn story showing up at the top of the "most viewed articles" list on

Posted by: TBG | November 23, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Hellloooooo???? Am I all alone here? Is it a refresh problem?

Posted by: Kerric | November 23, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

It's still alive Kerric. It's just that between the Boodle, shopping, The Trail food commentary and work we are getting spread pretty thin...

Posted by: ShriekingDenizen | November 23, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Don't know if it's a refresh problem but the comments link disappeared for a while, and now that I'm here everything looks very different. I hope my trip over to The Trail didn't cause another one of those Wrinkle in Time moments.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 23, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm too lazy to set up another user id, so I'm posting this here.

Joel forget the turkey chili. Go with Turkey lasagna. Instead of the more usual bolognese sauce use bechamel.

I've never tried this, but in a book I have at home, it looks really really tasty. Of course there is that little problem of how I cook that keeps getting in the way...

Never Mind.

Posted by: dr | November 23, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Especially work...



Posted by: Scottynuke | November 23, 2007 2:53 PM | Report abuse

We're back. The boodle was just taking a tripto-whatever nap while posting chili recipes on The Trail. Our non sequitor style of commenting will soon spread over the entire Empire.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 23, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

People append "I don't even like cats" to their cat quiz scores, as if we cared.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 23, 2007 3:06 PM | Report abuse

5/10 on the cat quiz, but at least I knew the T.S. Eliot connection to Cats. I've never had a cat, so I am ignorant. Which I can live with.

Posted by: Slyness | November 23, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Compulsively I posted a new kit.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 23, 2007 3:20 PM | Report abuse

LindaLoo, See this link RE: earthquakes near Eureka.

I was really suprised you never felt any while at Humbolt State.
A big silvery moon just popped up over the ridge.
Geting ready to tackle the third round of overnight aged turkey and mashed potatoes/gravy.
How about LSU losing on a 3rd OT two point conversion?

Posted by: bh | November 23, 2007 8:07 PM | Report abuse

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