There are three types of corn grown in Kentucky: field corn, popcorn, and sweet corn.
Field corn is the most popular type of corn grown by our farmers since it can be used for livestock feed, ground into meal and flour for human food, distilled into alcohol (fuel and beverage), or processed to be used in thousands of products.
Corn was discovered in North America. Early native Americans domesticated the corn plant and eventually shared their seeds and knowledge with European visitors and settlers. Christopher Columbus took corn back with him to Europe in 1492, and we are all aware that corn was an important crop for the Pilgrims in the early 1600s. Corn is now grown world-wide.
It takes a corn plant between 3 and 4 months to grow and mature. Most field corn is planted in the spring and harvested in the early fall. A combine harvests field corn when it is dry enough for storage. Corn is then transported to the markets that need it.
About half of the field corn grown in Kentucky is fed to livestock. Chickens eat the most Kentucky field corn. Kentucky also has several food processing companies that use food-grade corn, many distilleries, and an ethanol plant in Hopkinsville that turns corn into fuel. Corn that is not used in Kentucky is exported to other states or across the world.
Top field corn counties in 2014:
Many Kentucky farmers and backyard gardeners grow sweet corn. Nationwide, however, sweet corn represents only 1% of all the corn grown. Sweet corn is very similar to field corn, but bred over time to produce more sugar for a better taste. Sweet corn is also harvested while the kernels are soft and moist. There are still many Kentucky folks, however, who love roastin' ears from the field corn varieties. Corn on the cob is a staple on Kentucky tables throughout the summer. The sweet corn season peaks in July, but can be found from June through September.
Popcorn is more closely related to the corn that was grown by the Native Americans thousands of years ago. The kernels are smaller than typical field corn, and popcorn has a hard out shell that keeps a small amount of moisture inside the starch. When the moisture is heated to boiling point (212° F (100° C), the steam will cook the starch and cause it to explode open. A moisture content of 13.5% is ideal for popability. Popcorn is known as a specialty crop in Kentucky.
Learn more about popcorn at popcorn.org.
Learn about the Kentucky Proud Popcorn Program.
Sources: National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2014. 2015