This story was originally published by WIRED and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
The borders of the Corn Belt have always been fuzzy. The sprawling patchwork of cornfields that spreads across the Midwestern United States is one of the most productive agricultural regions on Earth. Over 36 percent of the world’s corn comes from the U.S., and almost all of that is grown in the handful of states nestled between the Great Plains to the west and the Appalachian Mountains to the east.
But the Corn Belt is on the move. Over the past couple of decades, farmland devoted to corn production has been creeping northwards and westwards. In North and South Dakota, grasslands that were formerly used for cattle grazing or set aside for conservation have been converted to cornfields. Between 2005 and 2021, the area of land harvested for corn in the U.S. increased by around 14 percent.
One of the big drivers of this shift has been bioethanol — transportation fuel usually made from fermented corn. Since 2005 the U.S. government’s Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, has mandated that gasoline producers blend corn ethanol i... Read more