Corn became a staple in Western Europe and even more so in the United States. Americans have thought little about corn until the ethenol craze of the early 2000s, but in fact corn was the central crop of American agriculture. Even more so it is the principal way which may converts sun energy into food on earth. This is because few plants so efficently convet sun light and water into organic material. Not only were many foods made from corn, but corn was used as not only a feed stock for animal rearing, but a wide range of industrial products. The industrial use of corn are much more recent and in fact date from the post-World War II period. American industry significantly expanded the output of munitions during the War. After the War the Goverment sought to deal with the huge stocks of amonium nitrate and plants producing amonium nitrate. One of the largest munition plants in America was located at Mussle Shoals, Alabama. That plant shifted production to fertilizer (1947). One estimate suggest that American super markets stock about 45,000 different items and about 25 percent of those items contain corn in one form or another. Corn is used in a multitude of products that the consumer does not associate with the grain: wallboard, joint compounds, linooleum, fiberglass, adhesives, and countless other products.
Even more so it is the principal way which may converts sun energy into food on earth. This is because few plants so efficently convet sun light and water into organic material.
Not only were many foods made from corn, but corn was used as not only a feed stock for animal rearing, but a wide range of industrial products.
The essential task of agriculture is to produce the organic packets that humans require for food and fiber. Organic compound are combinations of hydrogen, carbon, nittogen, and oxgen. Three of those elements are readily available. The tricky one is nitrige. This is a little surprising because the erth has vast quantities of nitrogen. Nearly 80 percent of the atmosphere is nitrogen. The problem is that nature has locked up that nitrogen in atonic pairs and that that molecule is very difficult to break apart. One historian summarizes the problem, "there is no way to grow crops and human bodies without nitrogen". [Smil] Essentially the inability to access nitrogen limited the earth's agricultural productivity and, as a result, population. Farmers for centuries had used leguminous plants (alfalfa, beans and other plants) to fix nitrogen in the soil, that is extracting nitrogen from the atmosphere. Bacterium living on the roots of the plants is the key to the fixing process. Of course they did not at first know that the soil enrichment involved fixing nitrogen. Researchers in the 19th century tried, but failed to achieve this through chemical processes. The great 19th century chemist Justus von Liebig experimented with nitrogen and described the "indifference" of atmospheric nitrogen to other elements and compounds. Finally the problem was solved by a Jewish scientist in Germany--Fritz Haber (1909). Haber found that nitrogen could be fixed by through electrical shocks. The process is known as the Haber-Bosch Process. (Bosch developed for turning Haber's discivery into a viable commercial process.) The ability to fix nitrogen and chemically produce fertilizer has enabled n expansion of agriculture that now suports a much larger world popultion. One historian estimates that something like 40 percent of the woeld's population is alived today because of Haber's discovery as to how to fix nitrogen. [Smil] Haber received a Nobel Prize for his discovery because of the significan to agriculture. Ironically the most immediate impact of his discovery was on World War I. Haber was an ardent German patriot. When Germsany went to War (1914), Haber's discovery gave it the ability to produce the vast quantities of munitions needed. Haber was also the scientist that developed the poison gas the German kntroduced (1915). Despite his services to Germany, he was targeted by the NAZIs when they seized power (1933). Haber had to flee Germany He died in a lonely Basel hotel (1934). It was Haber who developed the Zykob-B used by the NAZIs in the Holocaust. Haber developed it as pesticide. The Haber-Bosch Process involves fixing nitrogen through intense heat and pressure and a catylist. The heat and pressure was achieved through electricity--great amountd of electricity. And that power was primarily priduced by fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil). This mean that agricultural shifted from a virtusally total reliance on sun energy to fosil fuels.
The industrial use of corn are much more recent and in fact date from the post-World War II period. American industry significantly expanded the output of munitions during the War. After the War the Goverment sought to deal with the huge stocks of amonium nitrate and plants producing amonium nitrate. One of the largest munition plants in America was located at Mussle Shoals, Alabama. The plant was located there because of the cheap hydro-electric power produced at the Mussle Shoals Dam. That plant shifted production to fertilizer (1947). (Interestingly, chemical pesticides trade their origins to the poison gas developed during World War I.) Before the War the use of chemical fertilizers was relatively limited. The availability of chemical fertilizer made a fundamental shift in agricultural. Before this, farmers were very dependent on nature. Chemical fertilizer essentially mean that farmers could essentially industrialize their operations. Farming became only in part converting sun energy to food, now farming became converting sun light and fossil fuels to food.
Agromomists during the 1930s developed the F1 hybrid during the 1930s. It was not much used because to achieve superior results it required the heavy application of fertilizer. With the production of inexpensive fertilizer after World War II, the F1 hybfreed could be used giving farmers phemomenal yields. This occurred in America during the 1950s. Today about half of the world production of chemical fertilizer is applied to corn.
Native Americans, especially in Mexico and Central America, had corn based diets. This was less trur in the United States, although corn was important. Since World War II, corn has become increasingly important, in the American diet. Much of the corn Americans consume is essentially invisible. It is either heavily processed or used to feed animals just as chicken hogs, and cattle. [Pollan] One estimate suggest that American super markets stock about 45,000 different items and about 25 percent of those items contain corn in one form or another. Corn is used in a multitude of products that the consumer does not associate with the grain: wallboard, joint compounds, linoleum, fiberglass, adhesives, and countless other products.
The United States attempting to emulate Brazil's success with using sugar cane to produce ethenol as a gasoline substitute, the United States launched a major effort to produce ethenol from corn. The United States has significantly increased its production of ethenol and Congressional mandates require further production increases. The idea was to replace imported oil with a domestically produced substitute. Assessing this effort is complicated by both politics and ideology which cause the media to manipulate facts and statistics. The fact that the Iowa caucauses are now of great political consequence in the presidential races helped to make the etnenol mandates popular in Congress. And further complicating the issue is the national security component which makes a purely economic calculation inappropriate. The Green Lobby at first pushed ethenol and biofuels on an ideological basis. They now are having second thoughts because more farm land is being carved out of Amazonian rain forest and other virgin areas releasing carbon. Thus biofuels may when the total calculation is made, release more carbon than fosil fuels. [Grunwald] Wetlands, forests, and grrasslands store huge quantities of carbon. Converting these areas to farmland releases this carbon. Opponents attacking the ethenol mandates like to use statisics like if the entire American corn crop was converted to oil it would only meet 20 percent of the domestic demand for oil. Similar argumets are used to prevent domestic drilling. The actual fact is that America's deopendence on imported oil requires multiple efforts including biofuels, drilling, oil sands,conservation, and technological solutions such as coal gasification. Ethenol has come under increased pressure now because of sharp rises in corn and other crop prices. Because of the importance of corn, the consequences are rippling thrugh the American economy. It is also affecting poorer countries where large numbers of people are barely able to feed themselves. And here to many are assessing the prices rises thriugh an ideological lens. Quite a number amng the blame America first crowd clim that America is responsible. Ethenol mandates certainly have been a factor, but so have oil prices. We have yet to see a responsible assessment of the rise in fuel prices, revealing to what extent ethenol mandates, oil price increases, or other factors are resonsible.
Grunwald, Michael. "The clean energy scam," Time (April 2, 2008), pp.
Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World.
Smil, Vaclav. Enriching the Earth: FritzHaber, Carl Bosch and the Transformation of World Food Production.
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