I’m thinking about something I know almost nothing about. I’m not totally ignorant about the relative merits of the soybean versus the corn kernel. But almost. Back in my late teens I hauled trailer loads of both of these agricultural morsels. Most of the beans went to the Illinois River elevators over in Lacon or East Peoria. Where they went from there on barges I knew not. The corn I hauled 600 bushels at a time went to the Hiram Walker Distillery plant in Peoria. I knew their end product would be bottles of Johnny Walker Red or Black or other labeled whiskey.
I’d keep a handful of the beans in the ash tray of the truck, and I would suck on one over the miles. I’d soak off first the outer skin, spit it out the window or on the floor and then roll the harder bean around my tongue until it split apart, and I guess I’d then just worry the halves down to tiny nubs to be swallowed or spittooed out the window. Then I’d reach for another and do it all again. I didn’t smoke so maybe soybeans were my way of vaping.
I tried the same process with corn kernels but with very dissatisfying results. They didn’t soak as well. They didn’t have the same smooth composition as they disintegrated in my mouth as did the bean. What I never took into consideration was that both agricultural mainstays were loaded with chemical additives that made them genetically identical to their kindred beans/kernels. Likely they were unconcerned about their personal pronouns of he/she, her/his, they or them since science had taken any gender issues out of their reproduction lives. That last statement is purely supposition on my part and I’m sure the next time I run into my big farming friend, Aaron Johnson, he will edify my ignorance without making me feel stupid.
What brought all this to my thinking? We were driving up Tater Road Tuesday headed for Bargersville to visit my 91+ year old in-laws. To our right and to our left the fields were so very altered from our last Saturday trip to the HomeGrown Orleans Farmers Market. Then I still had to be mindful of any sudden leaping out of a corn field of a mama dear and her dosey does. No such worry of hidden dangers in the soybean fields on the other side of the road.
But this week many of the fields were harvested. The Deeres in the field now were iconic green with gaping maws and rotating blades that swept the corn stalks into the grinders and sorters and blowers doing their duties before that last group of chewers spit out the debris as a dusty residue to compost over the approaching winter.
We called them “corn pickers” in my back-then times because all those two and four row implements did was pick the cobs off the stalks and drop them into the trailing wagon. Combines I suspect is the going term because one machine combines all the actions of cutting off the stalk, stripping off the cob, separating the stalks and leaves to be chopped dispersed while the individual kernels were rubbed off the cob and sent out the spout into the holding tub on the roof of the machine. (Aaron must be shaking his head by now.)
I suspect the combine that vacuums across the soybean field does a very similar job on its victims as did the corn specific mini-factory. It’s easy, though to look a denuded field and tell if had been dressed in corn or beans. The corn field looks like it hadn’t shaved in a few days and was covered with a ragged stubble. While the soybean field is a smooth carpet of the shortest and most uniform nap. It looks restful. The corn field looks worrisome, even troubled or unfinished. Perhaps I’m applying too much psych stuff here. A new field of study; agri-cology?
And what happens to all those beans and kernels? Recall I took our beans and corn to the Illinois River. From there it went with the flow to get shoved south by the Mighty Mississippi. Ultimate destination was the Port of New Orleans. Or should be. Right now, Bloomberg is reporting a log jam of 100 ships and tugs with their tows at two pinch points on the river because of low water levels.
If that situation grows it will make it very interesting as we watch the slow down back its way up to where the combines are loading many thousands of bushels onto those grain trucks parked along Tater Road and all over the Midwest and the prairie states. Something to watch besides political nastiness.
Question: Are more soybeans picked per year than corn?
Answer: Corn wins almost 4 to 1. U.S. corn growers produced 15.1 billion bushels, up 7% from 2020. Soybean production for 2021 totaled a record-high 4.44 billion bushels, up 5% from 2020. Figuring that a legal load of beans or corn is about 1,000 bushels per trailer it would take some 400,000,000 of those grain hauling semis you see on the road to take the beans from the fields to the elevators. Imagine the carbon footprint.
And what happens to all those beans and kernels? What gets made from those billions and billions of bushels of beans? Some 70% come back to the farm as feed. Of course, we know what soy sauce is made from. But did you know that soy oil is used to make tires which have better traction on wet pavement? Some very obsessive person with a computer locked on Google and too much time found over 1,000 uses for soybeans. They range from pavement sealer to lip gloss. Yuck.
What happens to all those 800 kernels in their 16 rows per cob? There are the obvious breakfast flakes and the biofuels. And don’t forget Hiram Walker and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Chew gum? Take pills? Glued two things together? Blown things apart? Sanded plywood? Wear shoes? If so you used or consumed some corn.
Yes, this set of thoughts may well one of the most boring use of words I’ve offered over the last five years, but those sawn off, sheared off fields along Tater Road reminded me of two things. First was that apparently not potatoes are still grown along Tater Road; only corn and soybeans. Second, I know farmers like Aaron and the several thousand acres of River View Farms as well as Atlee, and Mose and Ezra and Ura and Jonas and another Mose and even another Mose with their small farms tended by Amish values. No matter the size of their holdings all of them, I suspect, understand that they are not really the owners of the land they plow, sow and harvest.
We live on what someone 60+ year ago called Windsong Farm. As a farm it’s not much, only 30 acres and most of that is timber not due to be logged again for 20-30 years. But we knew early on that we really did not own this place. We are all stewards of the land. We are stewards entrusted to take care of this land. Some of us may end up being planted under or scattered upon these acres. That eternal resting still will not make us owners. Our ashes might even be the best contribution we could make to the life and use of the soil.
So, in the meantime let the soybeans grow. Let the corn reach as high as that elephant’s eye. And may we all cherish whatever land we touch as a gift to us and from us to those to follow.
In the meantime enjoy the view of the changing trees and rest up so to better
Keep the Faith, Do the Job and Ask for Help.
Questions, comments? firstname.lastname@example.org
By the way, these are my own thoughts and do not necessarily represent 1st Presbyterian Church of Paoli or its members and friends. Some do agree. Sometimes. Sometimes not.