Neither my overseers nor manager will attend properly to anything but the crops they have usually cultivated; and, in spite of all I can say, if there is the smallest discretionary power allowed them they will fill the land with corn, although even to themselves there are the most obvious traces of its baneful effects. I am resolved, however, as soon as it shall be in my power to attend a little more closely to my own concerns, to make this crop yield [i.e., give way] in a degree to other grains, to pulses, and to grasses.
Letter from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson (October 4, 1795)
Crop diversification has long been on the minds of farmers and those in charge of creating farm programs. Often these thoughts of the need for crop diversification are preceded by sleepless nights thinking about crop price instability, totaling up the costs and revenues from the past and for the upcoming seasons. One might find themselves wondering which crops are being grown, where are they grown, and why? George Washington seemed to feel a need for diversification of crop varieties being grown on his land, and others. Of course, farming is a tight margin business, and farmers are simply trying to make their businesses profitable, and in some years, break even.
The truth is farming is risky, but different crops react to earth’s varying weather patterns uniquely. With these two facts in mind, we know that intra-seasonal risk can be decreased through diversification. But what about the long term? As crop diversity increases it may just assist in alleviating the issues with crop price instability, or at least decrease the severity of crop price cycles.
In the maps below there are 4 percentage categories used for basic analysis of varying levels of crop diversity within the United States. For example, at the 20 percent level, all crops with acres of production that make up 20 percent of total cropland acreage or greater are included in that category. Crops included in that grouping are the most widely grown crops within that state. As the percentages decrease the crops from the previous category are included, and added to that are crops grown with smaller portions of production acreage.
In this article, we provide a view of the extent to which crop intensity and alternatively, crop diversity exists across the states of the continental U.S. Included in this view are corn, oilseeds, small grains, pulses, cotton, rice, alfalfa and hay. Not included are fruits and vegetables, nor permanent pasture or rangeland acres.
Preston Lyman is a Research Analyst with Decision Innovation Solutions (DIS). DIS is an Iowa-Based economic research firm which provides regular farm economics research and analysis to the Iowa Farm Bureau staff and members.