Corn Facts

Corn, Zea mays L., (or “maize” at it is known throughout much of the world) is a cereal crop, a member of the grass family. Corn is grown around the world and is one of the globe's most widely used food staples; corn varieties are directly used for food and animal feed or processed to make food and feed ingredients (such as high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and lysine) or industrial products such as ethanol and polylactic acid (PLA). The two primary methods of processing corn are referred to as "dry" and "wet" milling.

Industry Overview

In 2005, the U.S. produced 42 percent of the world’s corn. Over 50 percent of the U.S. crop is produced in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska or Illinois. Other states in which corn is grown include Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Missouri.  In 2005, over 58 percent of the U.S. corn crop was used for feed. The remaining U.S. crop was split between exports (25 percent) and food, seed or industrial uses such as ethanol production (17 percent).

Other major corn producing countries include China, Brazil, Mexico and the 25 countries that make up the European Union.

Global Corn Production
(1000 metric tons)
Production      2003/2004      2004/2005
Argentina 15,000 19,500
Brazil 42,000 35,500
Canada 9,600 8,836
China 115,830 128,000
Egypt 5,740 5,780
India 14,720 13,600
Indonesia 6,350 6,500
Mexico 21,800 22,000
Nigeria 5,500 6,500
Philippines 4,845 5,100
Romania 7,020 12,000
Serbia and Montenegro 3,800 6,274
South Africa 9,700 12,000
Thailand 4,100 4,000
Turkey 2,800 3,000
Ukraine 6,850 8,800
EU-25 39,861 53,350
Others 51,917 55,606
United States 256,278 299,917
TOTAL 623,711 706,263

Much of the corn now grown around the world is genetically modified for herbicide and/or pest resistance.   

Major Products

Corn oil, which is extracted from corn germ, has high polyunsaturated fatty acid content and oxidative stability. Its largest single use is in bottled oil for consumer use, followed by margarine and industrial snack-frying operations.
By removing free fatty acids and phospholipids from crude corn oil, the oil refining process gives corn oil one of the qualities consumers value most: its excellent frying quality and resistance to smoking or discoloration. It also has a pleasant taste, resists developing off-flavors.

In addition, refiners produce starches, sweeteners and ethanol -- all made from the starch portion of the corn.

Corn starch, which is derived from the endosperm of the corn kernel, is a mainstay of the corn refining industry. It has a wide range of industrial and food applications. Over 90 percent of the starch Americans used is produced from corn.

Corn sweeteners supply more than 56 percent of the U.S. nutritive sweetener market. Corn syrup is a sweetener made by processing corn starch with enzymes or acid to create a dextrose solution. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is further processed to increase its sweetness. Since HFCS is stable and cheaper to produce than ordinary sugar, it has largely replaced sugar in processed foods and soft drinks; in recent years, consumer watchdog and health groups have increasingly taken food manufacturers to task for their widespread use of HFCS, claiming that the product contributes to obesity.

Ethanol is another major refined corn product; refined from the starch of the corn kernel, ethanol is an alcohol that has many industrial uses. In recent years, it has become an increasingly important source of fuel for internal combustion engines.

Common Processes Used

There are two basic methods employed in processing corn kernels. They are known as “dry milling” and “wet milling.”

Dry milling is the process in which corn is separated into flour, corn meal, grits and other products by soaking corn kernels in water, then removing the germ for processing into oil. The remaining parts of the kernel are ground and sieved into various fractions.

Wet milling is the process by which corn is separated into starch (syrup, ethanol, corn starch), germ (oil), and fiber and gluten (animal feed) by soaking corn kernels in water (and often sulfur dioxide) before separating them into the components above by grinding and centrifuge.

Leading Companies

Major processors of corn in the U.S. include A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, Ag Processing Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bunge Ltd., Cargill, Inc., Corn Products International, Inc., National Starch and Chemical Company, Penford Company, Roquette America, Inc. and Tate & Lyle PLC.

Other important U.S. processors include Consolidated Grain and Barge Company, SunOpta Grains and Foods Group, SK Food International Inc. and Agricor, Inc.

Further Resources

American Association of Cereal Chemists:
American Corn Growers Association:
Corn Refiners Association:
National Corn Growers Association:
North American Millers Association:
U.S. Grains Council:

Information for this Corn Facts page was provided by the Corn Refiners Association.
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