Corn Beyond the Cob
Corn or maize is the second most-produced crop in the world, and it’s more than just a staple in our diets.
From the sweetener in our coffees to the ethanol that powers our vehicles, corn has hundreds of uses. Consequently, high corn prices have a domino effect that can affect many supply chains and possibly even increase the cost of our weekly groceries, especially if they include tortilla chips.
This infographic uses data from the National Corn Growers Association to break down U.S. corn use by segment in 2020, and the products that a bushel of corn can produce.
The Uses of Corn in the U.S.
While corn on the cob is quite popular, not all corn is sweet. There are five major types of corn grown around the world, and each one differs in taste and uses. Of these, yellow dent corn or field corn accounts for the majority of commercial U.S. production.
Here’s a breakdown of U.S. corn usage in 2020:
|Segment||Bushels Used (millions)||% of Usage (2020)|
|Ethanol (Animal Feed)||1,075||7.4%|
Corn accounts for more than 96% of U.S. feed grain use and production. As a result, animal feed makes up nearly 40% of the country’s corn usage. This is because corn is a rich source of carbohydrates, and in combination with protein from soybeans, it can make for an effective diet for livestock.
In the United States, federal mandates require vehicles to use a blend of gasoline and biofuels like ethanol—94% of which is produced from the starch in corn grain. Therefore, a large portion of U.S. corn goes into ethanol production.
Interestingly, the ethanol distillation process produces a co-product known as dried distillers grain, which serves as low-cost, protein-rich animal feed for livestock. On average, the U.S. ethanol industry produces around 90,000 tons of distillers grains each week.
Animal feed and ethanol production collectively make up around 73% of U.S. corn usage. Other uses of corn include the production of sweeteners, starch, cereal, and alcoholic beverages like whiskey.
Breaking Down U.S. Corn Exports
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn and accounted for roughly 36% of exports in 2020.
Up until 2019, the majority of U.S. corn exports went to Mexico, Japan, and Colombia. China wasn’t among the top 10 destinations, but this changed in 2020.
Between January 2020 and 2021, U.S. corn exports to China increased exponentially, reaching an all-time high in December. China’s massive import appetite is because of a shortage of domestic supplies amid rising demand for feed from its recovering hog-herd, which was hit by the African swine fever in 2018.
Consequently, China became the third-largest importer of U.S. corn in 2020 after Mexico and Brazil. What’s more, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that China’s corn imports in 2021 will be much higher than 2020 levels, and the majority of those will be sourced from the United States.
The Corn Price Boom
In addition to a drought-induced yield cut in Brazil, rising demand from China has driven corn prices to their highest level in the last eight years.
Since the beginning of 2020, corn prices have increased 68% and stand at around $6.50 per bushel as of May 19th.
The rise in corn prices is likely to affect several industries and could translate into higher prices for our groceries, including cereals, taco shells, and corn syrups. Additionally, it could also push up the price of gas due to its key role in ethanol production.
Corn, in a Bushel
In a world where commodities like corn are often taken for granted, it’s important to think about how valuable it can be.
A single bushel of corn can provide 33 lbs of sweetener, 31.5 lbs of starch, or 22.4 lbs of polymers. It’s also enough to produce around 3 gallons of ethanol fuel and 16 lbs of distillers dried grains for animal feed.
The uses of corn go far beyond the cob, and just like other raw materials, it supports many industries that make modern life possible.
The World’s Top Coffee Producing Countries
Coffee is the third most consumed beverage globally. Here we visualize the countries that have the highest coffee production in the world.
The World’s Top Coffee Producing Countries
In many cities around the world, there’s a café on every corner, so it comes as no surprise that coffee is one of the globes’ top commodities. As the third most consumed beverage globally, after water and tea, coffee beans are in high demand almost everywhere.
The top producing nations each produce billions of kilograms of coffee beans that find their way into the hands of eager consumers. According to the International Coffee Organization, a total of 169.6 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee were produced worldwide in 2020.
So, why does the world universally love coffee so much?
For The Love of Coffee
As most coffee lovers would tell you, drinking coffee is a complex and nuanced experience—there’s the rich aroma, the comforting warmth, and the loveliness of the ritual of sitting down with a fresh cup.
With the variety of ways it can be served and the jolt of caffeine it provides us, it’s not hard to see why the world loves its coffee. In fact, we love the beverage so much that humans have conditioned themselves to associate the bitter taste of coffee with a bout of energy and positive reinforcement.
So, where does the journey of each cup of joe originate? Let’s get to know the world’s top coffee producing countries.
The World’s Coffee Production Leaders
At the end of 2020, the top 10 biggest coffee-producing nations held 87% of the commodity’s market share.
Here is a list of the top 20 largest coffee-producing nations in the world:
|Rank||Country||Production in 2020 |
(Million 60-kg Bags)
|Total Market Share|
|13||🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||1.8||1.1%|
|14||🇨🇷 Costa Rica||1.5||0.9%|
|17||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||0.7||0.4%|
|19||🇸🇻 El Salvador||0.6||0.4%|
While some of the world’s top coffee-producing nations are well known, others may come as a surprise. More than 70 countries produce coffee, but the majority of global output comes from just the top five producers: Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.
Meet the Top Coffee Producing Countries
Brazil is a true powerhouse of coffee production. The country single-highhandedly produces nearly 40% of the world’s coffee supply.
Many areas in Brazil have a climate perfectly conducive to coffee farming. Coffee plantations cover about 27,000 square kilometers of Brazil, with the majority located in Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Parana.
Brazil distinguishes itself from most other coffee-producing nations by drying the coffee cherries in the sun (unwashed coffee) rather than washing them.
The country is so influential to coffee production that the 60-kilogram burlap bags historically used to export beans from Brazil are still the worldwide standard for measuring production and trade.
Vietnam found a niche in the international market by focusing primarily on the less-expensive Robusta bean. Robusta beans can have up to twice as much caffeine as Arabica beans, giving the coffee a more bitter taste.
Though coffee has been grown in the region for well over a century, production skyrocketed through the 1990s after Vietnam’s communist government introduced economic reforms (known as Đổi Mới).
Today, Vietnam accounts for more than 40% of the world’s Robusta bean production.
Coffee cultivation in Vietnam is also extremely productive. The country’s coffee yields are considerably higher than other top coffee-producing countries.
A popular advertising campaign featuring a fictional coffee farmer named Juan Valdez helped brand Colombia as one of the most famous coffee-producing nations. A coveted drink of choice, Colombian coffee is prized for its aromatic, mild, and fruity flavors.
Some of the rarest coffees in the Western world originate in Indonesia, including Kopi Luwak—a type of bean that has been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. Coffee made from these coffee beans might cost you anywhere between $35 to $100 per cup.
Known for its full-flavored, down-to-earth, and full-bodied coffee beans, Ethiopia is the country that gave us the Arabica coffee plant. Today this type of coffee is considered to be the most widely sold in cafes and restaurants across the world.
All of these top producing countries are found in the so-called “Bean Belt”, which is located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
The Future of Coffee Production
With global temperatures on the rise, good coffee may become increasingly challenging to grow. To future-proof good and continued growth of coffee beans, finding newer and hybrid blends of coffee beans is essential.
Several studies and research missions have found wild species of coffee growing off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire and in certain regions of Sierra Leone, which could be the answer to our coffee production problems. Coffee from these coffee plants tasted similar to the famous Arabica bean and also grew at higher temperatures.
Though the future of coffee production around the world is somewhat uncertain, our collective love of the morning cup of coffee will drive innovative solutions, even in the face of changing climate patterns.
Animated Map: U.S. Droughts Over the Last 20 Years
The Western U.S. is no stranger to droughts. But this year’s is one of the worst yet. Here’s a historical look at U.S. droughts since 1999.
Animated Map: U.S. Droughts Over the Last 20 Years
The Western U.S. is experiencing one of the worst recorded droughts in the last 20 years.
Temperatures from California to the Dakotas are currently hovering around 9-12°F above average—but how bad is the situation compared to past years?
This animated map by reddit user /NothingAbnormalHere provides a historical look at droughts in the U.S. since 1999, using data and graphics from the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM).
What is the U.S. Drought Monitor?
Over the last two decades, the USDM has been tracking, measuring, and comparing droughts across America.
While droughts can be difficult to classify and standardize, there are various factors that can be used to gauge when a region is experiencing drought. These include measurements of snowpack levels, soil moisture, and recent precipitation.
To track these conditions (and make sense of them), the USDM synthesizes data from a plethora of meteorological sources, including the Palmer Drought Severity Index and the Standardized Precipitation Index.
From there, conditions are broken down into categories, ranging from D0 (abnormally dry) to D4 (Exceptional Drought). A map is released each week that shows which states are experiencing drought, and to what degree.
Where Are The Most Drought-Prone Areas?
According to a map created by climatologist Becky Bolinger (which is published on Drought.gov), Arizona and Nevada are the most historically drought-prone states—the two have experienced drought more than 50% of the time tracked by the USDM.
California is high on the list as well, with the state experiencing drought at least 40% of the time.
As the historical data shows, the West is no stranger to droughts. However, this year’s drought has become particularly worrisome because of its intensity and breadth.
Right now, more than a quarter of the West is experiencing a D4 level drought—a new record. To help put things into perspective, here’s a look at how much overall land area in the West has been in drought, since 2000:
When a region is experiencing a D4 drought, possible impacts include:
- Water Scarcity
Lower reservoirs, combined with decreased snowpack lead to water shortages.
- Crop losses
Water shortages mean less water for fields, which can lead to acres of fallow (unused) farmland.
Dry conditions and lack of moisture increase the risk of wildfires.
Is This the New Norm?
This record-breaking drought is wreaking havoc across the West. In California, reservoirs have about half as much water as they usually do, and crop failures are happening across Colorado.
The worst part? Some experts believe that this could be the new normal if human-driven climate change continues to increase average temperatures across the globe.
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