GRINNELL, IA – The agricultural commodity that has long dominated Iowa and makes the state the leading U.S. producer will be the focus of an interdisciplinary symposium at Grinnell College, Nov. 16-18.
“Corn Belts: Iowa and International Agriculture” will offer a program of international experts on the nature of “king corn” and its dominance in world markets as the leading crop by weight. The symposium is co-sponsored by Grinnell’s Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations and Human Rights, the Center for Prairie Studies, the Center for International Studies, and the Luce Program in Nations and the Global Environment.
“Corn provides a lens through which to look at many worldwide connections and issues—environmental, agricultural, economic, and political,” said Sarah Purcell, director of the Rosenfield Program. “We’re taking a liberal-arts approach to this influential commodity by bringing together a variety of viewpoints from around the world.”
While corn is generally considered a food product, less than three percent of the U.S. crop is directly consumed by humans; 43 percent is fed to livestock, 30 percent goes to ethanol manufacture, eight percent to sweeteners or starch, and 15 percent to export.
“The supply and demand for corn touches on such diverse areas as climate change, biodiversity, intellectual property, and obesity,” said Jon Andelson, director of the college’s Center for Prairie Studies. “The symposium will look critically at the treadmill of production and the consequences of our dependence on corn.”
The Corn Belts symposium will include the following free, public events:
- Tues., Nov. 16, 7 p.m.: Kendall Lamkey, chair of the agronomy department at Iowa State University, will lay the groundwork for the symposium with “The Origin, Production and Utilization of Corn.” •
- Wed., Nov. 17, 4:15 p.m.: Two speakers will provide international viewpoints—Daniela Soleri of the University of California at Santa Barbara on “Views from the Campo: Traditional Maize Agriculture in Oaxaca, Mexico,” and Carmen Martinez Novo, John R. Heath Professor of Social Sciences at Grinnell, on “Notes on Subsistence Agriculture and Food Sovereignty in Ecuador.”
- Wed., Nov. 17, 7 p.m.: C. Ford Runge, Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Applied Economics and Law at the University of Minnesota, will discuss trade implications in “Rivers of Gold: Where Does Corn Flow and Does it Make Sense?” Runge is also the subdirector in charge of commodities and trade policy at the university’s Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy.
- Thurs., Nov. 18, 11 a.m.: The Scholars’ Convocation, “Corn: Africa’s Story in Four Acts,” will be delivered by James McCann, who leads research in Africa on the link between malaria and maize cultivation. McCann also writes about agricultural and environmental history and has consulted for humanitarian and civil rights organizations worldwide. His books include “Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop,” “Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa,” and “People of the Plow: An Agricultural History of Ethiopia.”
- Thurs., Nov. 18, 4:15 p.m.: A panel discussion on “The Business of Corn” will include Matias Mino Navarette of the Monsanto corn processing facility near Grinnell; Craig Lang, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau; local farmer Mark Dimit; and Jon Andelson, moderator.
- Thurs., Nov. 18, 7 p.m.: Fred Kirschenmann, former director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, will close the symposium with perspectives on “Corn and the Sustainability of Iowa Agriculture.”
All symposium events will be held in Room 101 of the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center on the Grinnell College campus, unless otherwise noted. For more information about the symposium, contact Sarah Purcell, purcelsj[at]grinnell[dot]edu, 641-269-3091, or Jon Andelson, andelson[at]grinnell[dot]edu, 641-269-3139.