Saturday, January 24, 2015

What States Produce That People Eat

I found this neat map of what people really eat if you strip away the livestock feed and ethanol, state by state.

Driving through the farmlands of Iowa looking for fresh food to eat is a lot like sailing through the ocean looking for fresh water to drink. In the ocean, you're surrounded by water that you can't drink; in Iowa, you're surrounded by food you can't eat.

Even though Iowa generates the second-highest amount of revenue of any state off its crops -- $17 billion in 2012 -- the overwhelming majority of that comes from field corn, which is destined mostly for animal feed and ethanol, not dinner plates.

I came upon this startling fact while trying to answer a seemingly simple question: What crop generates the most money in each state? The Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistical Service produces reams of data on such matters, so I figured the question would be easy to answer.

But it turned out to be trickier than I thought, because when I pulled the data, I realized that in most states, the biggest crop was one that was used mostly for animal feed. For well over half the states, field corn, soybeans or hay was the crop that generated the most cash in 2012, the latest year for which data are available. Though a small share of some of these crops does eventually get eaten by humans, in the form of things like soy lecithin and high-fructose corn syrup, most of it is fed to animals raised for meat or dairy.

To get more meaningful results, I decided to strip away those crops that are used largely for animal feed, and focus on crops that people actually eat. I plotted the results on a map, which revealed some surprising trends:

You quickly learn that most states we are familiar with has wheat as their number one human consumed crop.  That is true where I live and soft red winter wheat is turned into bakery products.  We really don't consume that much corn and soy unless we eat meat and dairy products.

Take a look at the lower map and see how much we grow for feed and fuel!



  1. People could eat field corn in a pinch though and technically the animal protein created by the field corn should be applied to the "feed" states overall production numbers too. Also to be fair overall resource, energy and infrastructure use per acre of the human consumable produce should be included too. California maybe the number one vegetable producer but it eats up a lot of resources to do so.

  2. Yes but I've tasted sweet corn that was more like cow corn. I think we can do a better job no matter what we are growing. It was impressive to see how much grain goes to feed and fuel.

  3. Wheat, wheat, wheat. Wheat is all around. Sounds like a boys band from the 90s! ;)

    Some people say that even wheat is not human food anymore, with its gluten selected for kneading machinery instead of for the human stomach. It's still a top food for me, it's kind of hard to reduce your intake of bread in France... Maybe to be fair the author should have excluded the percentage of wheat that goes to animal feed too. And in France, you'd have to exclude the part that is used to produce ethanol. It's an interesting map, but it does not really serve a purpose, as it does not truly represent human food vs animal feed, and a lot of these crops are exported for whatever usage, and it's really no good knowing which is the top crop if the next one is nearly at the same level or on the contrary, falls far behind.

  4. nice blog !! i was looking for blogs related of animal feed . then i found this blog, this is really nice and interested to read. thanks to author for sharing this type of information.