In the USA, maize is often referred to as "corn" but the word "corn" is a misnomer. "Corn" in its original sense, meant grain. The verse in the Bible, "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28), refers not to maize, but most likely to wheat or barley. The biblical reference to "a corn of wheat" refers to a single grain.
Botanically, maize is a grass of the family Gramineae which includes other common crops such as wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, sorghum, and sugarcane. Maize is in the tribe, Maydeae, which includes the dent corn (the subject of this chapter), flint corn, sweet corn, and popcorn. Maize was given the scientific name, Zea mays L. by Linnaeus. Zea derives from the Greek word for grain or cereal and mays (eventually the common name maize) stems from the aboriginal American sound maiz, approximating an inference of that which sustains life.
Origin of Maize
The origin of maize is somewhat controversial. Maize is believed to be a native American plant. One of the first records is dated November 5, 1492 when two sailors of Christopher Columbus' crew, exploring Cuba, returned with details of "a grain they call maiz which was well tasted, bak'd, dry'd and made into flour". Maize was cultivated by the Indians of North, Central, and South America for centuries prior to Columbus' time. The most advanced systems of maize culture centered in the great pre-Columbian civilizations-the Incas in Peru, the Aztecs in Mexico, and the Mayas in Yucatán and Guatemala. The spread of maize north and northeast from its native tropical America occurred over many centuries via migrations of Indians.
Maize in the USA
Explorers to the New World in the 1500s found maize being grown by Indians in most parts of the Americas from Canada to Patagonia of Argentina. The Puritans who landed in New England in 1620, survived their first dreary winter by eating maize obtained from the Indians, and took lessons in maize culture the following spring. In following years, most everywhere agriculture was practiced in North America, maize was the basic food plant. Successful colonization of the New World by the Europeans would have been extremely difficult without maize.
By the late 1830's, the American "corn belt" centered in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The defeat of Black Hawk, chief of the Sac and Fox nations, gave the white man control of the vast maize potential lands of Illinois. Maize farmers moved in and the meat packing industry, dependent on maize-fed animals, followed westward. The Chicago Board of Trade became the leading market for maize and by 1870 Chicago was virtually the food center of the world. By the end of the 19th century, U.S. (United States) maize production was increasing rapidly and in 1899 the nationwide crop was 2.7 billion bushels, of which Illinois and Iowa contributed more than 25%. It wasn't until the 1940's, when 3 billion-bushel crops became common. Hybrid maize was first cultivated on a commercial scale in 1933 and yields thereafter have continued to increase to the present day. In 1998, 9.8 billion bushels were produced on 72 million acres in the US, for an average yield of 134 bushels per acre. Maize accounted for 24% of all crop acres in the United States in 1999 and was valued at US$ 17.93 billion compared to soybeans, at US$ 12.55 billion.
The value of the U.S. maize crop has significantly increased from 1949 to 1999. The 1949 crop was valued at only US$ 4 billion. In 1996 it reached a peak of US$ 25 billion. In 1998 and 1999 the value decreased to US$ 19 and US$ 18 billion respectively. The top producing states in billion bushels in 1999 were Iowa (1.8), Illinois (1.5), Nebraska (1.2), Minnesota (1.0), and Indiana (0.8) bushels/acre. Average U.S. maize yields by state vary significantly. Highest yields in bushels/acre in 1999 were in Arizona (195), Washington (180), New Mexico (180), and Oregon (175). Lowest yields were in New Jersey (37 bushels/acre). Yields in the top producing states were Minnesota (150) Iowa (149), Illinois (145), Nebraska (139), and Indiana (132).