September 3, 2014
By: Alison Rice, AgWeb.com Markets and News Editor

As farmers harvest their corn crop this year, they might want to look carefully to see what else—namely, marijuana–might be growing among their cornstalks.

“America is the world’s leading producer of corn, harvesting nearly 376 million tons of it in 2012. How can a grower walk through all that land?” Kaitlin Stack Whitney, a Wisconsin ecologist who studies insects in agricultural environments, writes in an article in The Atlantic. “The truth is that they don’t. Once a corn field is planted and herbicide applied, many farmers don’t return to a given field until harvest time. The biotechnological and labor-saving innovations that have reduced costs for corn farmers mean that literally no one walks into the average corn field during the growing season. Which presents a major opportunity for marijuana growers.”

These illicit producers are not only appropriating a farmer’s land, they’re also taking advantage of the farmer’s agronomic investments. “Every input that corn farmers carefully measure and apply to maximize their crop growth—fertilizer, herbicide, irrigation—benefits the marijuana plants, too,” notes Whitney, who says drones and precision planting have reduced the need for farmers to walk their fields as extensively as in the past.

She tells the story of a farmer who found an “usually large patch” of marijuana in 2010. “The DEA was called in to cut down and burn the contraband. Knowing the time, energy, and money that go into a crop, the family cursed the idea that someone was freeloading on their good soil and irrigation,” she writes. “As they watched the bonfire die down, they asked the DEA officials to estimate the value of the marijuana they had just burned. The reply: half a million dollars. The farmers had to laugh. The value of the corn that had been cut down to grow it? $32.”