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Secondly, farmers need to be profitable; and the more profitable the better, so farmers carefully choose the crops and animals they raise. These decisions in turn affect what we eat. The paragraphs below explain agricultural patterns in the US, an briefly elsewhere. There are roughly five major agricultural zones in the US, each aligned with a climate zone. Corn and Wheat Belts In the US, it is perhaps best to start with the agricultural regions split by the 100thmeridian. This line of longitude marks a transition zone between the humid eastern half of the US and the drier western half. In the middle parts of the US, where the land is flat and ideal for crops, farmers east of the 100thmeridian generally plant corn (maize) and soybeans. Frequently this area is called the Corn Belt, and it is centered on Iowa. Much of this land was originally tall grass prairiebefore it was plowed under and made into cropland. Farmers on flat lands west of the 100thmeridian tend to plant wheat. Farmers out west would prefer to plant soybeans and corn because they are more profitable per acre, but west of the 100thmeridian, it is too dry for corn and soybeans, so farmers plant wheat instead. The wheat beltruns from the panhandle of Texas up through the Dakotas, an area that was once short grass prairiebefore it was converted to agriculture. There are hundreds Figure 3-13: US - Each point on this map represents 10,000 acres of grain corn harvested in 2012. Note the steep decline west of the 100th meridian. Source: USDAFigure 3-14: US - Each point on this map represents 1,000 acres of wheat harvested in 2012. Note its predominance west of the 100th meridian, and compare to the corn map. Source: USDA.
P E O P L E A N D L A N D S C A P E S 53 of types of wheat, but Americans focus on only a few varieties, and these are largely characterized by whenthey are planted. For example, farmers plant winter wheatin the fall and harvest it in the early summer. It accounts for about three-quarters of all the wheat produced in the US, and it is used to make breads and rolls. Kansas is at the heart of the winter wheat belt. Further north, in the Dakotas, wheat farmers plant spring wheat.It is planted in April and harvested later, in the fall. Bakeries use spring wheat flour to make pastries and cakes. Durum wheatis a special variety of spring wheat, planted mostly by Americans in North Dakota. Durum wheat is used to make the semolina flour used in the production of pasta. Clearly, Durum is a favorite wheat in Italy as well. Wheat is the leading agricultural export from the US, and the US leads the world in wheat exports, but thanks to shifting government policies and climate change, overall wheat production has fallen in the US since the 1970s. Since 1900, the growing season has changed so that corn production is now preferred to wheat production. For example, in North Dakota, the first killing frost of the year is now often in October, rather than September as it was for decades. This allows corn plants to ripen a few weeks longer, and as a result making corn more profitable than wheat, especially given the subsidies for corn production. An