Entomology, Department of


Date of this Version



Environ. Res. Lett. 15 (2020) 071001



Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence


Corn (Zea mays L.) has long been a staple crop of the Corn Belt of the U.S., which today extends latitudinally from central Nebraska to central Ohio and longitudinally from northeast Kansas to the eastern Dakotas and western Minnesota. However, the production of corn in the Corn Belt has been transformed in both magnitude and spatial extent since the 1960s. Previous research has shown that there has been an overall increase in the number of acres planted to corn across the Corn Belt (e.g. Johnston 2014, Lark et al 2015), with a pronounced increase in the eastern Dakotas and modest increases across the historical Corn Belt, which includes most of the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa (i.e. the ‘I’ states). Much of the intensification across the Dakotas can be attributed to the conversion of grasslands and small grains croplands (e.g. wheat and barley; Lin et al 2016; Laingen 2017, Wimberly et al 2017) for corn and soybean (Glycine max L.). Some of this change can be attributed to government programs (Laingen 2011) and to the substantial increase for corn ethanol in areas with traditionally lower corn yields (Murphy et al 2011). Recent research also highlights a north and westward spatial shift in the Corn Belt (Hart and Lindberg 2014; Laingen 2017, Auch et al 2018) such that the geographic mean of the Corn Belt has shifted over 200 km northwest since the 1950s (Laingen 2017). In this paper, we build on these previous studies by presenting evidence of two key points: 1) The relative dominance of corn production of the traditional Corn Belt has been diminished, and 2) The crop reporting districts with the highest corn production have also started to shift spatially, partly from increased acreage outside the traditional Corn Belt and partly from spatial shifts in the districts with the highest corn yield trends.

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