And The Corn Palace Celebrates Its Majesty
Farms in corn country are looking especially tidy these days. Flush with cash from ethanol subsidies, Midwestern farmers are enjoying a feast-ly economy from high land values which they can leverage into improvements. This economic boon has been steadily growing for over six years. In 2006, an Iowa State Extension economist noted a 10% increase in farmland values. Their compounded change from 2000 – 2010 is a whopping 172%, according to The Land Report’s Farmland: Eye on Iowa, which also noted a big name focus on the value of land:
You don’t have to be a genius investor like Buffet to accurately surmise an investment’s relativity when the S&P compounded return over the same time period was a measly 4.6%. Throughout the Midwest and Plains regions, the value of land is skyrocketing. Higher corn means higher prices for other food producers as well. The Iowa Farmer Today quoted a University of Nebraska economist, “This year should be a price bonanza for cow/calf producers.” It’s a good time to own land on which you can plant corn.
It may be an even better time to put up a few windmills among your corn. Federal production tax credits appear to be a way for savvy farmer/investors to double dip from the federal trough. Taking advantage of the government’s focus on renewable energy, farmers and ranchers in “flyover” country are harnessing what had been the bane of their existence not so long ago – the wind – for more profits.
Corn has long been king in these parts. Beginning in 1892, settlers in Mitchell, South Dakota wanted to prove to immigrants who were potential residents that this was a good place to settle. They planned a fall festival to celebrate the fertility of the region and their own productivity. This focus had great appeal to those coming from an Old World where their labors mostly benefited others. The American Dream of self-determination was evoked in a fantastical folk art structure, made entirely of corn, first erected in 1892. (The swastika symbol on the main turret in the photo at right is a Native American symbol for fertility. Its more sinister use would come 40 years hence.)
The world is fed from these fields in modern times. Driving along I-90 through the heart of corn country, we see all kinds of different homage to the power of the land. A hand-lettered roadside message: “The country’s future depends on God.” A whimsical motorcycle trailer in the form of a bright red barn, toting the necessaries for a road trip. An enormous dinosaur led by a human skeleton, fashioned from rusty farm implements, outside of Murdo. A giant metal steer in a kitschy sculpture garden in Porter.
I remember thinking in the weeks following September 11, 2011, “They’ll never prevail. The country is too vast.” It must have felt that way to those who hid and armed the Minuteman Missiles amongst these fields, juxtaposing two forms of strength against two of man’s most basic fears: starvation and subjugation.
Our country’s elders, both native and immigrant, revered the strength of the land. The Lakota view the earth as our mother, and she enjoyed similar respect from European settlers, whose hard work under harsh conditions was rewarded more often than not with spectacular largesse. The relationship as defined by the ancients remains remarkably unchanged.
Today, the Corn Palace still stands. Each year it is newly decorated, using over 3,000 bushels of oats, rye and sour dock. When the corn crop comes in, the Palace is adorned by roughly 275,000 ears, halved lengthwise and nailed up in patterns created by local artists. Inside, in a series of murals made entirely from corn, the reverence to King Corn is enhanced. The Palace regularly hosts trade shows, basketball games, and other events, making it a charming multi-use structure with a unique historical heritage.
In an article from earlier this year entitled The Future of Corn, we read “Have no fear, corn is here for good.” If corn is truly king, it is a benevolent and nourishing regent. May its reign continue.