Posted: July 26, 2010
A new kitty litter made from corn may not save the planet but it does present an educational opportunity. Corn is a versatile product used in thousands of products every day and the list keeps growing. The evolution from livestock feed to human food, to a growing list of industrial uses (ala corn kitty litter) is a natural one based on the staggering productivity of America’s family farmers.
So much focus is placed on the growing use of corn by the ethanol industry that I think we forget all the other products made from corn and how and why this expansive list of corn uses started. Today, nearly every state growing corn also sports a “checkoff program.” These farmer supported efforts take a small amount – from fractions of a cent to as much as a penny per bushel – from each bushel of corn sold to pay for promoting corn products, to increase exports markets and to research and develop new uses for corn.
Checkoffs changed the way people think. Corn suddenly became a chemical feedstock or stored solar energy just waiting to be released. Scientists and business entrepreneurs who thought the corn world revolved around sweet corn began to see unlimited potential for commercial corn.
As a result corn consumption for industrial or non-food uses has been outpacing the growth in food and feed uses for a long time. So it seems kind of silly that we continue to wring our hands over salacious debates over whether we should be using corn for things like fuel (ethanol) when it could be used for food and feed. This debate is ancient history and the market won. The advanced production power of U.S. agriculture today ensures a growing supply of corn that will continue to satisfy demand for domestic use and exports.
Today, there are more than 4,200 different uses for corn products ranging from toothpaste to paint. And just when you think you have heard of it all along comes the World’s Best Cat Litter™ is produced by GPC Pet Products in Muscatine, Iowa.
Developers say it is the only litter with a patented formula that harnesses the microporous power of whole-kernel corn to control odor better, absorb moisture faster, clump tighter, and last longer than all other litters—while providing a 100% renewable, 100% biodegradable cat litter that is pet, people, and planet safe.
And apparently it is safe for human consumption too, as one of the videos featured on the web site shows a gentleman eating the product to prove it is safe. Now that is grassroots marketing of a different kind.
Understanding why farmers started a self-administered checkoff programs is a little easier to grasp. Decades of $2 a bushel corn was a pretty good motivator. Corn grower’s productivity was crushing the prospects for profitability for the nation’s farmers as markets for livestock feed and domestic food uses matured.
Much like the sun coming up in the morning it is in farmer’s nature to try to produce as much corn as they can. Getting more bushels per acre has traditionally been the key to survival, so rather than throw in the towel they decided to be pro-active and build uses and markets. And the effort has paid off. Corn use continues to grow and so does farmers productivity. Seven of the largest corn crops in history have been grown in the last 7 years and without expanding acreage.
A 17 billion bushel crop is no longer a pipedream, but a looming reality so bring on the new uses.