Sour Corn

(The News is Not Sweet)

by Gary Kline

In the article “Prune Lesson”, I wrote about how the depletion of a farm’s soil minerals unknowingly led to the shrinkage and loss of a prized Italian Prune, and thus its marketability. This story is told in The New Organic Manifesto (1986), by Lee Fryer, from the experience on his father’s Oregon farm in the 1930s.  Fryer states that proper mineralization would have saved the prune crop and market, had they only known what to do.

I also used this real life story to illustrate the prevailing problem of a misunderstanding of what “organic” is, or rather, what it ought to mean and how the significance of minerals in soil fertilization has largely been lost upon farmers, gardeners and consumers.  This is in part due to a singular focus on eschewing “chemical” fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, and I’m certainly not dismissing the far-reaching negative impacts of their use and misuse.  However, failure to recognize the significance of nutrition in health and disease has had rather devastating impacts on individuals and the nation.  It is, I believe, the major cause of sky-rocketing cancer, obesity, heart disease and numerous other degenerative diseases that arose just in the mid-1900s; within my lifetime.

Yes, you’ve heard me talk before about the “missing mineral message”; that’s because I think you need further convincing, and so I come at it from different angles.  Reading, or rereading, further into Fryer’s book, I found a few passages about the demise of nutritional quality in corn.  It’s the old story of quantity vanquishing quality.  Maybe you’ve noticed this in corn.  These brief passages come from Manifesto, pages 155 to 160.  Remember, Fryer wrote this in 1986.  He was 78 at the time.

Corn, if I’m not mistaken, is the most abundantly grown crop in America and worldwide.  Thanks to hybridization, chemicalization, automation and so on, the yield per acre has shot up greatly since the old-fashioned pre-chemical farming era of the 1930s.  Supposedly, we feed the world with our fabulous corn production and export.  But what are we really feeding the world and ourselves - - - pesticides, chemical residues and pollution aside? 

Here the quotations from Fryer begin:

“The nutritional values of similar-looking heads of lettuce, cabbage or bunches of carrots may vary as much as 1,000%, depending on how the crops are grown.  Reliable studies conducted at Rutgers University proved this more than 40 years ago.”

Those studies, done about 1945, were conducted by Dr. Firman Bear.  “Dr. Bear recognized the significance of good agriculture as the basis for adequate human nutrition.  He first helped farmers to use soil and tissue analysis [testing] in improving their yields of crops, and then later he turned his attention to the companion research - - - that the levels of mineral content in the crops had a significant role in nourishing people.”

“Petro-based [chemical] agribusiness farming, using excess nitrogen [not a mineral, according to Fryer] to attain high yields, tends to demineralize the crops and provide less nutritious vegetables, fruits and feeds for livestock and poultry.  Also, - - - this system invites pest damage and [leads to] an excessive use of toxic pesticides.”  If you’ve eaten vegetables or fruits that taste like cardboard, that’s because they essentially are.

“A full report of Dr. Bear’s work was published in the ‘Proceedings of the Soil Science Society of America’, Volume 13, 1948, under the title ‘Variations in Mineral Composition of Vegetables’.  An overall summary of the results showed the following variations in total mineral matter, the basic indicator of nutritional value.”

Total Mineral Matter As a Percent of Weight

Kind of Vegetable




Snap Beans




















* Note:  The difference figures were supplied by Gary Kline.

“Dr. Firman Bear’s pioneer investigations stimulated other competent field studies; for example, a series of tissue analysis tests on corn plants conducted in Ohio:  These field tests were conducted in 1965 by the Ohio Plant Laboratory [at] Ohio State University - - - serving thousands of farmers, as well as non-profit organizations of neighboring states.”  Today’s research serves mainly mega corporations.

“A summary of the results of these field tests for minerals in the corn plants was published in the ‘Soil Science Society Journal’, Volume 2, 1967.  It showed the following variations in the amounts of key minerals:


Variations in Tissue Content

(in parts per million)

Iron (Fe)

From 10 to over 250

Copper (Cu)

From 2 to over 50

Zinc (Zn)

From 2 to over 100

Such variations cannot be accounted for by genetic factors.  Rather, they reflect, mainly, differences in soil fertility and fertilizer practices; the ways the corn was grown.”

“Debasing the natural corn crop with excess nitrogen [from simplistic NPK applications] is a fair example [of techniques to increase crop yields and obtain higher prices rather than to sustain nutritional values].  While increasing the yield by 100 bushels per acre, we reduced the protein content by 30% and demineralized the crop.  This promotes poor nutrition of livestock and high veterinary costs, plus blizzards of corn ear worm moths and chronic infestations of afflatoxin disease.”

It is important here to note that continuous NPK fertilization produces exhaustion of trace minerals, leading to dead soil, reduced organic matter and topsoil loss from erosion.

“Adequate attention is not being given, yet, to the use of advanced technology and crop testing to remineralize America’s corn crop, while sustaining high yields; thus reducing disease, pollution and pest control costs.”

Corn has gotten a reputation for being nutritionally empty and not worth eating.  Not all corn, of course.  But I think we can see why that is so.


© 2014 Gary L. Kline

All Rights Reserved

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