Many critics of the acreage dedicated to corn fail to acknowledge the increased efficiency that produces so much more corn on fewer acres, according to the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).
Corn critics lamenting the loss of acreage for other crops have become louder, blaming America’s corn growers for shucking other crops. Most recently, for example, an increase in the price of beer has been tied to fewer acres farmed for barley, leading to such headlines as “Price Increase on Tap for Beer” and “Higher Beer Prices Brewing.” The writers of these stories appear to ignore the fact that barley acreage expanded 16.4% in 2007.
The fact is, many considerations go into planning what crops a farm’s acreage will grow. And while corn acreage has increased in the short term, the trend has not been consistent, nor at a historic high.
“We’re looking at projections that have corn acreage declining a little and leveling off for the short term,” says NCGA President Ron Litterer, a grower from Greene, IA. “It’s always a matter of supply and demand … as well as weather.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks corn crop production going back to 1866. From that year to the end of the 19th century, the acreage planted for corn in our growing nation increased more than three-fold, from 30 million to 94.5 million acres. In the 20th century, acreage planted for corn peaked at 113 million acres in 1932 and then tapered off, ranging up and down in the 70-95 million range for the rest of the century, with a few anomalies such as 60 million in 1983. For the 2007 growing year, an estimated 93.6 million acres of corn were planted. Surplus corn, or carryout, for the 2007 season is projected at 1.9 billion bushels, a 45% increase over 2006. This surplus is well above the 20-year average and is the fifth-highest level in the last two decades.
Other media reports state that the development of farmland for corn is destroying precious “open space” lands not previously used for farming. In reality, the number of acres used for farming has been trending downward over the past few decades. In 1932, the year that corn saw the highest acreage count, all acreage under cultivation was 320.4 million acres, while in 2007 the total acreage under cultivation was an estimated 278.1 million. The development of suburban communities in the second half of the 20th century was a major contributor to the decrease of acreage for both farmland and parkland.
What is far more significant when looking at demands for certain crops, and how they are met, is crop production. Corn production in particular has increased more than five-fold between 1932 and 2007. The average yield, represented as bushels per acre, went from 26.5 in 1932 to an estimated 153.0 in 2007. The number of additional acres needed to harvest 2007’s projected production according to 1932 standards would be more than 400 million acres – equivalent to a farm more than twice the size of Texas.
Experts believe average yield can increase to 170 or more over the next decade. “When it comes to feeding the hungry and providing fuel alternatives and numerous other products, America’s corn growers are doing it wisely – and efficiently.” Litterer says.