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What is the #1 Crop in the United States?

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

The United States is one of the leading producers of many of the crops used domestically and internationally. Although wheat production is typically associated with the United States, this crop comes in third behind soybeans and corn. Corn reigns as the number one crop produced in the United States - grown primarily along what has been dubbed the “Corn Belt” (Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, and Kansas). If you have ever been in one of these states, you know just how prominent the crop is - the annual production average between 2015 and 2019 was 14 billion bushels. To put this into a little better perspective, a bushel of corn is approximately 56 pounds, or equivalent to 32 dry quarts.

Where Did Corn Come From?

Corn, as a crop, is not a plant that grows in the wild. It is a crop that must be planted and protected by farmers in order to survive. Scientists believe that people living in central Mexico developed the crop we call corn over 7000 years ago. The first corn did not look like what we are used to today - the closely grouped rows of kernels. Instead, it may have been derived from a wild grass called teosinte. These kernels were small and spread out among the ears.

When the Indians migrated northward about 1000 years ago, it is believed that they brought “maize” with them, which is the name given to corn at the time. Europe was introduced to corn after Christopher Columbus brought the crop back after he discovered it in America. The first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621, and while the traditional fixings we all know and love were likely not littered across the table, it is almost certain that Indian corn would have been on the menu.

Why Corn is Popular

Corn is a versatile crop, to say the least. A lot of investments have been made in the research, breeding, and promotion of the crop. Because of this, the yields are often high (higher than the other United States-produced crops). Corn has also been adapted to make several other products sold today. Food products derived from corn include corn flour, hominy, cornmeal, grits, popcorn, and more. It can also be turned into ethanol (think E88), high-fructose corn syrup, and even bio-based plastic products.

Not All Corn is for Human Consumption

Not all of the corn crops grown are used for feeding humans. In fact, the majority of the corn grown is for other products or for feeding livestock on farms. Most of what we eat or adapt for our food usage is sweet corn. You have likely seen that written on the signs at your local farmer’s market. That is because the other types of corn grown do not have the same unique taste that we have come to know and love.

The Outlook for Corn

The total export value of corn in the United States reached $18.72 billion in 2021, with China raising the highest demand for corn exports from the United States. This makes China the third largest destination for corn, after Mexico and Japan. These top three markets account for 62% of the corn exported from the United States. With the year-over-year averages, it doesn’t look like the demand for corn will fall any time soon.

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