Every morning and every evening while walking my new puppy, Bella (she’s a five month old Akita), we are greeted by the smell of corn. It’s one of my favorite smells and reminds me of being a little kid at my grandparent’s house. See, late in the evening and early in the morning, corn smells. I tried explaining this to someone earlier this week and they thought I was crazy; unless you’ve smelled it, it’s hard to explain. Corn smells like corn, but it’s a sweet, earthy smell that just reminds you that you are lucky to be growing up on a farm. It reminds me of catching lightning bugs, stargazing, and hot summer days followed by cool summer nights; to me, it is the smell of summer. However, in Monday’s Tribune, there was an article blaming corn for the heat and humidity. Man, it’s rough being a farmer these days, but it turns out, corn does some really cool things for the planet.
With the use of better precision farming, meaning that farmers are using less spray and less fertilizer due to the data they collect, growing corn actually adds some positive things back to the planet. Also, better seed genetics, i.e. genetic modification, that allows corn to use nutrients more efficiently are creating fields that are helping the environment. Researchers at universities and facilities are studying how corn affects the Carbon Cycle and weather patterns. Joshua Gray and his colleagues, a carbon research team at Boston University, found that corn actually helps deepen the carbon cycle. He and his team compared it to breathing; corn helped the planet take a deeper breath than areas that did not have corn. That deeper breath is contributed to the no-till method of farming, where corn stalks and roots break down in the fields over the winter, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2). Then in the summer, the new plants take in more CO2. While corn plants are still not as effective as trees for cleaning up CO2, seed scientists are using technology to try to modify seeds so that corn may one day be as effective as trees at removing CO2 from the planet.
And while some scientists are studying CO2, other scientists are looking at the effect of corn on weather. There is a possibility that some of the “corn smell” I was talking about earlier is actually some of the huge amount of water that corn puts back into the atmosphere. Scientists are examining a link between weather and the amount of moisture that corn releases back into the atmosphere. While this research is in its infancy and no specific conclusions can yet be drawn, the cornfield that you pass on your daily drive might be helping to influence the amount of rain your flowerbed receives. So that old 19th century adage that “rain follows the plow” might be true after all.