Your Reading List

Comment: Taking a break from Trump

While roaming around the internet to get away from the daily attacks by the Trump administration, or articles on the NAFTA talks, I came across an interesting graphic article from Bloomberg entitled “Here’s How America Uses Its Land.”

Using the data from surveys, satellite images and data from various government agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture divided the U.S. into six major types of land. Working with this data and some other sources the Bloomberg journalists Dave Merrill and Lauren Leatherby produced a series of maps that give an overall view of how land is used in the 48 contiguous states of the U.S.

After having spent a little time trying to match their findings to our situation in Canada, I developed a greater appreciation for the work the Bloomberg journalists put into this article, which was published online on July 31.

The best I could come up with is that proportionately thing are much the same on this side of the border. Our wooded and wilderness area is proportionately larger than the U.S. and I would think the ratio of urban to rural areas is slightly lower than in the U.S. but I suspect the trends are much the same.

You can judge that for yourself. According to the article, the USDA data breaks the 1.9 billion acres that Americans use to feed themselves and drive their economy into five use categories: pasture and rangeland, forest, cropland, special uses and miscellaneous.

Pasture and rangeland at 654 million acres would cover most of the western U.S. while the 69.4 million acres taken up by all the cities and towns across the country will fit easily into the northeast corner of the country.

If land was still the chief determinant of wealth ranchers would be kings, but of course those times are long past. While urban areas only take up 3.8 per cent of the land in the U.S., 80 per cent of the people live there and consequently it is what drives the economy. According to Bloomberg the 10 most productive urban areas in 2016 contributed about 40 per cent of the U.S. GDP.

It would probably be higher today. For urban development is eating up a million acres of land per year. That is equivalent to adding an area the size of Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix combined. Urban growth in terms of land has quadrupled since 1945.

No doubt these journalists live in one of those urban areas for they note that while cropland takes up a fifth of the country, “the actual land area used to grow the food Americans eat is much smaller — only about the size of Indiana, Illinois and half of Iowa combined.”

That’s where their bias comes into the picture. The amount of cropland in the U.S. when this data was collected covered 391 million acres. But they identify only 77 million acres as land that grows food Americans eat — wheat for domestic consumption, fruits, soybeans for food, vegetables, barley, and corn for processors and so on.

The rest is in crops grown for feed grains and, in the case of corn, a third went for ethanol production. In all, 41 per cent of America is in feed grains and pastures and rangeland,

To not consider feed grains or pasture as food is to overlook the very large amounts of beef, pork and chicken that Americans consume every year. Not to mention the contributions these sectors make to the overall economy.

Indeed, they will have even more meat to choose from next year. In a recent presentation in Canada, Kevin Good, senior market analyst with CattleFax, predicted a 2.3 per cent increase in U.S. beef production next year to 650 million pounds, along with 3.5 per cent more pork and 1.9 per cent more poultry. In total there should be 2.5 billion pounds of meat produced next year, 2.4 per cent more than is expected this year.

Export sales will take some of that increase but Americans are also expected to eat 219.9 pounds of meat per capita in 2019, and 220.5 pounds in 2020 based on past trends and the amount of production that will be avail- able.

The remaining quarter of the country is covered in forest and timberland. Timber stock grew by about one per cent from 2007 to 2012.

As an interesting aside, the article says one company, Weyerhaeuser, controls 12.4 million acres, about 2.3 per cent of all commercially available timber. That is about the same size as West Virginia.

Here are a few more factoids from the piece. Two million acres are covered in golf courses. Three million acres are used for airports. The amount of land in citrus fruit trees is larger than Rhode Island.

Well, that’s enough of a break. I’d better get back on my Twitter feed to see what Mr. President is threatening us with today.

About the author


Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

Gren Winslow's recent articles



Stories from our other publications