Geography of Corn in the United States

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Corn is an important crop in the United States. Globally, one-third of all corn in grown in the United States.

U.S. Corn Belt

While corn can be grown in nearly every state, within the United States the majority of corn grown happens in the Midwest over a swath of area known as the “corn belt.”

Within the U.S. Corn belt, the states of Iowa and Illinois grow the largest share of corn.

In 2019, 91.7 million acres of corn in 2019 were planted in the United States. This is the equivalent of 69 million football fields.

For 2021, the USDA forecasts production for corn at 14.8 billion bushels, which is a 4 percent increase from 2020.

Corn is also known as maize.

Map of Corn Cropland in the Midwest

This map created by NASA from USDA data shows the extensive of corn across the Corn Belt in the Midwest. The map uses 2020 Cropland Data Layer product provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Map showing farmland that were planted with corn in 2020.  Map: NASA using USDA cropland data.
Map showing farmland that were planted with corn in 2020. Map: NASA using USDA cropland data.

Table: Corn for Grain Area Harvested in 2020

StateArea harvested – 2020 (1,000 acres)
Alabama  320
Arkansas  605
California  60
Colorado 1,060
Delaware  176
Georgia 390
Idaho  130
Illinois  11,100
Indiana  5,250
Iowa 12,900
Kansas  5,720
Kentucky 1,380
Louisiana 485
Maryland 430
Michigan 1,990
Minnesota 7,510
Mississippi 490
Missouri 3,280
Nebraska 9,890
New York 510
North Carolina  950
North Dakota  1,780
Ohio 3,300
Oklahoma 320
Pennsylvania  1,000
South Carolina 380
South Dakota 4,500
Tennessee 825
Texas  1,810
Virginia  420
Washington  80
Wisconsin 2,970
Other States*456
United States – Total82,467
Source: Corn for Grain Area Harvested, Yield, and Production – States and United States: 2020 and Forecasted August 1, 2021, Crop Production, USDA
*Other States include Arizona, Florida, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming

The Corn Belt has the Most Photosynthetic Activity in the World During Growing Season

Researchers used remote sensing data to show that no other place on Earth has as much photosynthesis as the Midwest region of the United States during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season.

A corn field in Iowa.
A corn field in Iowa. Photo: Peter Van Metre, USGS. Public domain.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment 2 (GOME-2) on Metop-A, a European meteorological satellite.

The data showed that the corn belt extending from Ohio to Nebraska and Kansas produced peak photosynthetic activity in July at levels 40 percent greater than those observed in the Amazon.

What is Corn Used for?

There are three main uses for the corn supply grown in the United States.

Approximately one-third is used to feed livestock, either directly or through the use of animal feed. Corn is used as the source of carbohydrates in animal feed.

Almost a third of corn is converted to ethanol which is used as a gasoline additive.

The remaining corn crop is used within the United States and around the world in food and drink products.

A 1918 poster: "Corn - the food of the nation Serve some way every meal - appetizing, nourishing, economical".
A 1918 poster: “Corn – the food of the nation Serve some way every meal – appetizing, nourishing, economical”. Source: Library of Congress.

Corn in Iowa

99% of corn grown in Iowa is what is known as “field corn”. Field corn is primarily grown to be used in animal feed and to convert to ethanol. Only 1% of the corn grown in Iowa is “sweet corn” for human food consumption.

Corn Production Around the World

Corn originated in the Americas and is now a significant crop grown around the world. Maize is grown on all continents except Antarctica.

This map of corn production was produced in 2000 from statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The dark green area of the Corn Belt is seen in the Midwest. Other significant areas of corn production can be seen in parts of Central America, Subsaharan Africa, Asia, and Southern Europe.

Map showing global corn production, 2000.  Dark green areas are areas that have high corn output.  Source: NASA using data from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Map showing global corn production, 2000. Dark green areas are areas that have high corn output. Source: NASA using data from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

What are Corn Mazes?

Corn mazes are paths made by cutting or plowing through the crop (maize). Often popular in the fall, corn mazes can be seen at farm-based pumpkin patches.

References

Corn is America’s largest crop in 2019. (2019, July 29). USDA. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2019/07/29/corn-americas-largest-crop-2019

Corn facts. (n.d.). Iowa Corn. https://www.iowacorn.org/media-page/corn-facts

Falling for corn. (2021, November 5). Landsat Image Gallery. https://landsat.visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=149035&fbclid=IwAR2uCzOdzKOMv39MlZdRC08ujIq61xA46rFJ2T8aWb3gmb3wNlYeemTS0j4

Green, T. R., Kipka, H., David, O., & McMaster, G. S. (2018). Where is the USA Corn Belt, and how is it changing?. Science of the Total Environment618, 1613-1618. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.09.325

Riebeek, R., & Allen, J. (2010, November 25). Maize: A global crop with American roots. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/47250/maize-a-global-crop-with-american-roots

Satellite shows high productivity from U.S. corn belt. (2014, March 26). NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/press/goddard/2014/march/satellite-shows-high-productivity-from-us-corn-belt/

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