The Radical Transformation of the U.S. Agricultural Landscape

June 29, 2016

We’ve warned in the past that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) could lead to the United States transforming into a monocrop culture.

And now, our recent analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture points to our worst fears: the ethanol mandate is a driving force in the radical transformation of the U.S. agricultural landscape in the years since the RFS was instituted.

Take a look at some of the shocking statistics:

  • Corn and soy now account for more than half of the land dedicated to field crop production in the United States. In 2005, the two crops accounted for 48.4 percent of field crop acreage. In 2015, that figure was 53.6 percent — an increase of 16,838,000 acres.
  • The amount of land dedicated to growing all other field crops is trending downward. Since 2005, the total area planted of all other (non-corn, non-soy) field crops in the U.S. has decreased by 9.7 percent.

  • Since 2005, plantings of flaxseed, oats and rice have decreased significantly.
    • Land dedicated to growing flaxseed has decreased by 52.9 percent;
    • Total oats acreage is down 27.3 percent; and
    • Land dedicated to growing rice has decreased by 22.8 percent.

  • North and South Dakota, since the passage of RFS, have seen a dramatic increase in corn and soybean production, while wheat production has decreased. Taken together, the states planted 50 percent more corn and soybeans in 2015 than they did in 2005. In 2005, farmers in the Dakotas planted 12.4 million acres of wheat. In 2015, they planted just 10.7 million acres.

  • Also, in the Cotton Belt (Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi), as cotton planting has seen a 54 percent decline since 2005 due to a number of factors, corn and soy are quickly filling cotton’s void — and then some. The area of corn and soybeans planted during that time increased by 2.6 million acres, or 32.5 percent. 

If the RFS remains in effect, this trend could continue at an alarming rate.



Methodology:  Data is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service’s Agricultural Baseline Database. To ensure consistency across states, data on “Acres Planted” for field crops in each state was used. Corn and soybeans were assessed together as they are frequently grown as rotational crops year-over-year, and both crops are used in the production of biofuels. To determine the impact of corn and soy on other field crops, USDA data on “Total Field Crops” was used as a measure of overall crop plantings. Data from the years 2000 through 2015 was examined. This time period includes several years’ worth of data prior to meaningful implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005 and 2007.


Click here to download the USDA data used for this research.