Mapping the New Corn Belt Project

Christopher Laingen, Ph.D.

Project Description

In 1950 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report entitled Generalized Types of Farming in the United States. In it, each county in the U.S. was allocated to one of ten farming regions based on dominant farming practices. One of those regions was the Corn Belt, whose cropping system in 1950 was a rotation of corn, oats, wheat, soybeans, and hay and pasture crops, most of which were grown to feed and fatten livestock also found on the farm.

Today’s Corn Belt, however, is one based on corn that is rotated almost exclusively with soybeans and sold in the cash-grain market. While the majority of the corn crop is still used to fatten livestock, not every farm today has livestock. Iowa and southern Minnesota now grow the majority of Corn Belt hogs. Large cattle feedlots are found in areas that were once west of the Corn Belt such as western Nebraska, Kansas, and eastern Colorado. Technology has also allowed corn to be grown today where it could not be grown in the past. Center pivot irrigation now allows farmers in western Nebraska, Kansas, and eastern Colorado to grow high yielding corn while genetic modification has created corn that now tolerates cooler climates such as those of southeastern North Dakota.

A new Corn Belt map is long overdue. Today there are counties that were not “in” the 1950 Corn Belt, but now have over 100,000 more acres of corn than they had on average fro 1950 to 2002. Yet, when statistics are calculated for the Corn Belt, areas such as these, that are growing increasingly large quantities of corn, are not being counted. If the 1950 Corn Belt boundary would be used to measure the amount of corn grown today in the U.S., only 65% of the total U.S. corn crop grown would be accounted for, whereas expanding those boundaries slightly would bring that total to upwards of 80%, a much better representation of today’s agricultural landscape. The goal of this research is to spatially redefine the Corn Belt using 2007 Census of Agriculture data by asking the following questions:

1. How has the definition of the Corn Belt changed since 1950?
2.Which crop statistic or group of statistics (from the USDA’s Census of Agriculture) should be used to define today’s Corn Belt?
3.What are the new sub-regions within the Corn Belt?

For more information about this project, contact Chris Laingen via email at

Support for the MNCB Project is made possible from a Council on Faculty Research Grant through the Office of Grants and Research at Eastern Illinois University

The MNCB Documentary, "The Corn Belt: The Changing of American Agriculture"

Throughout the week and a half in researching the changes in the spatial distribution of the Corn Belt, both Chris Laingen and Cameron Craig collected interviews and footage for a documentary film that focuses on the farmers of the Corn Belt. To read more about this project visit TCPFilms or the Films Project page on this site.

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