Rekindling Corn Stoves

Fuel prices are higher this winter… but corn prices are down. That’s kindling a demand for corn stoves in some parts of the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:


Fuel prices are higher this winter, but corn prices are down. That’s kindling a demand for corn
stoves in some parts of the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:

I always thought corn was something you ate. But I’m watching as my brother-in-law is stoking
his stove with golden kernels…

“In my case I use five gallon pails of corn, then just pour in slowly…”

(sound of kernels spilling into hopper)

I’d never seen a corn stove and my brother-in-law, Steve Springer, says he never thought he’d use
one. Once he did, he was hooked.

“Well, one thing about it is, it’s a renewable resource. Being a farmer myself, it’s something we
grow ourselves. This was in our home when we purchased the home – never had any exposure to
it. Since then, I like it immensely. Kicks out lot of heat.”

Corn stoves first became popular in the 1970’s when corn prices plummeted. There were
problems with the early stoves. Hardened clumps of burned corn, called clinkers, had to be
cleaned up and the corn didn’t burn efficiently.

Today, the stoves are making a resurgence because corn prices are down. New corn stoves are
better than the ones back in the 70’s. The stoves now have an agitator to stir the corn for a more
even burn and fewer clinkers.

Ed Bossert sells corn stoves at a store near where the Springers live. He says business is brisk.

“A lot of people come in to save money, a lot of people come in because it’s a renewable
resource, a lot of people come in because the pollution factor is basically nothing.”

Corn stoves produce less carbon dioxide and soot than burning wood or coal, so they seem more
environmentally friendly. But critics point out that the farm machinery used to grow the corn
burns fuel and generates pollution, so any gain from a cleaner burning fuel may be lost during
planting and harvesting.

While the environmental argument simmers, sales of corn stoves continue to heat up. Bossert says
he now sells as many corn stoves as he does wood stoves.

In larger cities such as Madison, Wisconsin the corn stoves don’t sell as well. At Top
Hat Fireplace & Chimney, only three customers have purchased corn stoves despite the best
efforts of sales staff like Mark Gilligan. Showing off the store’s one and only corn stove model,
he says it’s easy to maintain….

“They actually locate down below an ash drawer. That actually sits down below. There isn’t a
whole lot of ash from these pellet and corn stoves because it uses most of it up.”

Most corn stove dealers say a bushel or two a day will keep the cold away. With corn about two
dollars a bushel, that can seem like a bargain compared to natural gas prices, which are 20%
higher this year. But the initial cost of residential corn stoves can be steep.

Craig Tawlowicz owns Countryside Heating in north-central Wisconsin. He says new corn
stoves can cost two thousand… on up to six thousand dollars.

“So this is a long term investment. Most of the time, turn around savings, usually five to six
years pays off your investment.”

Wood stoves are not only more traditional, but they’re generally cheaper. So, wood stoves are
more popular. At Hearth and Home Fireplaces, Claire Barton says despite that… more customers
are considering corn stoves.

“It certainly makes sense for someone who has grain available to them and many of them will
burn corn as well as oats, wheat, barley, cherry pits. Things like that.”

The National Corn Growers Association promotes a lot of corn products. You’d think corn stoves
might be one of them – but spokeswoman Mimi Ricketts says it’s not one of the 600 items the
group touts.

“The National Corn Growers Association determines its issues based on priorities of member
states. Corn stoves is not one that’s been put on our radar screen. We are aware of them but we
have not actively promoted corn stoves.”

That’s probably because compared to other buyers of corn, such as livestock farms, corn syrup
processors and ethanol makers, corn stoves just don’t use a lot of corn. It’s not considered a big
market for farmers.

Instead, the big sales are going to those who make or sell the corn stoves. And because farmers’
harvest was so large this fall, corn stove retailers have found their cash crop this winter.

For the GLRC, I’m Shamane Mills.

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