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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA,  ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 20 January 2020

Summary and Keywords

Corn ranks first among crops in quantity produced globally, owing to its high yield and to its value as a food for humans and domestic animals. While its water-use efficiency is high compared to that of other crops, the production of high corn yields requires a great deal of water; the availability of water largely determines where the crop is grown. As a high-yielding grass species, corn also requires a substantial supply of nutrients (especially nitrogen) from external sources, including manufactured fertilizers and organic materials such as animal or green manures. This, along with the need to manage soils, weeds, insects, and diseases, makes corn production environmentally consequential.

Corn captures large quantities of sunlight energy through photosynthesis, but its production requires large external inputs of energy, coming mostly (in mechanized production) from fossil fuels. So even though the crop’s high yields moderates the environmental cost per unit of grain produced, minimizing the external environmental consequences of large-scale corn production is an important goal in the quest for greater sustainability of production of this important crop.

Keywords: corn, Zea mays L., tillage, crop rotation, nitrogen fertilizer, greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide, life-cycle analysis, GMO

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