Imagine riding a train through America’s most densely populated region. The cities and suburbs are gone, and instead you see nothing but corn.
That’s the vastness of U.S. corn harvest, estimated at 83.1 million acres this year, government data show. Transplanting the Corn Belt to the Northeast would cover the combined area of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C.—every state connected by the so-called Acela corridor favored by business-class train commuters along the Eastern Seaboard.
Breaking down acreage by use, the amount of land devoted to producing corn for ethanol would require a field the size of New York. Animal feed would fill a field the size of Pennsylvania and Delaware combined.
Sweetener production of glucose, dextrose and high-fructose corn syrup would cover New Jersey. If you just broke off production of high-fructose—a sugar substitute criticized by nutritionists for its ability to create cheap, but empty, calories—you could fit its production inside Connecticut.
And there’s plenty left over once American needs are met. Acreage of corn grown for export equals roughly the areas of Maryland and New Jersey combined.
The sheer productivity of the corn crop—the weight of the grain grown for syrup alone tops the combined mass of every U.S. adult—and its versatile uses are what’s made the $51.7 billion crop the American farm king, said Pat Westhoff, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
“It can be made into feed, it can be made into biofuels; it yields more grain per acre than its competitors,” he said. “If you’re providing calories for anything, corn tends to be the least expensive, most profitable option.”