My American heroes? Farmers!

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emergent corn

In the first week of May, American farmers seeded over 35 percent of this year’s projected corn acreage — in one week! That’s quite a few acres! And a bit of arithmetic will put this feat in an even better perspective.

From acres to gardens

Let’s see; this year, there should be between 90 million and 100 million acres planted to corn in the U.S. We’ll be conservative and use the lowball 90 million acres. That’s over 4,005,000,000,000 square feet.

If you have problems reading numbers with many zeros, this is a tad over 4 trillions — with a “T” (a number roughly one quarter the size of our national debt in dollars). Our farmers planted over 35% of that area in one week, or roughly 1.5 trillion square feet.

Imagine that farmers had, in fact, planted gardens. An average American garden is roughly 400 square feet. So American farmers planted the equivalent of roughly 3,500,000,000 gardens in a week — that’s 3.5 billions, with a “B” this time, or about 10 average gardens per total living Americans — in one week!

From acres to seeds

An average corn acre is planted with roughly 30,000 seeds. The exact figure is probably a bit higher, but we’ll stick to round numbers for now. So American farmers put in the ground over 960,000,000,000 corn seeds in a week — very close to one trillion seeds. If you started counting these seeds at a rate of one seed per second, it would take you over 30,000 years to count them.

From seeds to planting rate

You may want to check this out, but there are 604,800 seconds in a week — that’s non-stop 24/7. So in the first week of May, corn seeds were going into American ground at a rate of about 1,500,000 seeds per second. Yep, 1.5 million seeds per second! Put differently, a corn seed was hitting the ground every 0.00000064 second. During the time it would take you to say “I love this country,” more than 3 million corn seeds would have been planted.

You wouldn’t want to do it by hand

Imagine for a minute that the mechanical corn planter had not been invented yet, and that all these seeds had to be planted by hand. From what I remember of my gardening days, a person can probably put one seed in the ground every 3 seconds. So we could get 1,200 seeds in the ground per man-hour.

(I use the word “man” in a generic sense — as in “mankind.” By the time I am done with my calculations, I don’t think that we’d be too fussy about the gender of our human corn planters.)

At this rate, what American farmers planted in early May would have required 787,500,000 man-hours. Had we hired people to do this and made them work 40 hours each during the week (no coffee break…), we would have needed 19,687,500 dedicated human planters. Yet the job was done by just a few tens of thousand farmers. That’s what farming technology has allowed this nation to potentially do.

More importantly, that’s what hard-working, ingenious, savvy and resilient American farmers can do. An amazing feat!

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Normand St-Pierre is an Extension dairy specialist at Ohio State University. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.

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