Corn is one of the most widely grown cereal crops. Inefficient fertilizer practices and the demand for irrigated water contribute to environmental degradation. 

This brief provides a summary of the main environmental and social factors that affect corn production worldwide; however, it spotlights key players in the U.S. value chain and provides examples of actions being taken by companies operating or headquartered in the U.S.


  • Most of the corn grown today is used to feed the animals we eat or as a biofuel for cars.
  • The U.S. is the world’s largest producer, exporter and consumer of corn grain, with nearly one-third of its cropland used for corn production. Most corn used in the U.S. is grown in the U.S.
  • Because corn is a high yielding commodity and a widely used ingredient in food products a large number of companies are part of the corn value chain.
  • Inefficient fertilizer practices and the demand for irrigated water contribute to environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions and poor water quality that drive business risks in corn production.
  • Investors should address risk in the corn supply chain through direct engagement with their portfolio companies and by supporting relevant policies and multi-stakeholder collaborations.

Environmental and Social Factors that Drive Risks

Commodity Background

On average in the U.S., about 45 percent of corn is used for animal feed, 44 percent is turned into ethanol, and 10 percent is used as food. Within corn used for food, about one third is converted into high-fructose corn syrup.  

Top Production Regions

The U.S. and China are by far the largest corn producers, accounting for more than half of global corn production.


Supply Chain

The corn value chain is extremely broad, encompassing many players and sectors. However, a small group of big companies control large volumes of production at key points in the US supply chain.


Company Examples

The Coca-Cola Company

The Coca-Cola Company committed to sustainably sourcing by 2020 all its key agricultural ingredients, including the corn that goes into its high-fructose syrup. By 2020, it aims to engage farmers that collectively represent up to 1 million acres, or roughly 50 percent of the company’s global corn supply, in implementing this commitment.


Smithfield -- as a pork producer -- purchases large quantities of animal feed containing corn, and has set a goal to have 75 percent of its Southeast grain-sourcing acres participate in a fertilizer optimization and soil health program by 2018.

General Mills

General Mills’ stated goal is to sustainably source 100 percent of its 10 priority ingredients by 2020, including dry milled corn. In 2014, the company launched a Field to Market pilot program targeting 20 eastern Wisconsin corn growers with the aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient utilization, while increasing biodiversity.