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Corn migrating North: do you agree, based on these two maps (1948 vs. 2008)

Comparing crop acreage harvested per county, in US, 1948-1952 vs. 2008-2012. The article was posted in USA Today with the title Climate Change Changing Agriculture. It is an interesting visual presentation (in USA Today) as you can superimpose the two images for better comparisons. Here, you can see 1948-1952 at the top, and 2008-2012 at the bottom. 



Clearly, there is an expansion towards North, but I also notice expansion to the South and East - indeed as far South as the southern tip of Texas (many new counties where corn is harvested, although acreage is small as the color is light). Or was Texas not tracked back in 1948, making comparison meaningless? Maybe the Texas corn species is different from the one now growing in North Dakota.

So, how do you measure, which metric should you use to prove that there is clearly a trend? And it's clearly North, despite slight expansions southwards and eastwards as well. Clearly, a question for statisticians. Maybe different people will have a different opinion if you based your judgement on these two maps alone.

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Comment by Brian France on September 25, 2013 at 3:24am

I can't believe that in 1948 there was no corn grown in Kansas, Oklahoma or Texas? Are we to believe that all the corn used in creating Tennessee whiskey came from out of the state? There seems to be missing data. A quick google search sows Texas had corn in 1948.. ( Also realize that in 1948, ww2 could have had impact on whaw was grown and where. Before ww2 the dust bowl would have affected how and where things were grown. I don't like it when a 'news' publication uses 2 data points in time to prove a trend. A true trend would be an aggregated across more dates rather than just 2. I would love to get the data instead of just 2 incomplete images. This map morphing for every year of 100 years would have been much better.

Comment by Brian France on September 25, 2013 at 2:45am

I think we need more years to see of the growth is from all the extra corn that is being grown for subsidized ethanol being produced sense about 2006, or before?

Comment by Steve Barbee on September 19, 2013 at 11:08pm

Corn needs water to grow.  Dryland crop yields depend on rainfall. 


Higher yields in areas with lower rainfall can be obtained by irrigation (e.g. pivot) systems which require a pump most often connected to a well tapping an aquifer.  Not all aquifers can be replenished (aka fossil aquifers).

Depletion of southern aquifers:



Map of Ogallala aquifer depth:

Comment by Vincent Granville on September 19, 2013 at 9:28pm

One of our readers wrote:

Increases in corn acreage over that 60-year period results from a number of changes: greater incentives, better farm technology, cultivars, genetic engineering, more irrigation, general crop science and monitoring improvements, and probably more. Such changes would certainly push the marginal production into drier, colder, marshy, etc. areas. You'd have to find individual county data, along with Lat-Lon, to calculate a geographic centroid for each of the periods to detect a shift, of course, but I'm thinking we'd see expansion in all directions.

My questions:

Are there political factors influencing this growth? For instance, production of corn starch, ethanol or feed corn, subsided by government, at the expense of other crops? Why is there almost no expansion towards the West? Is expansion done at the expense of other crops, or are we now able to grow corn on land that was previously not cultivated?

Comment by Steve Barbee on September 18, 2013 at 8:57pm

Greater anticipated profit (vs. soybeans) and soil depletion (same crop year after year) are cited as reasons in this article:

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