Though most farms in the Corn Belt are family run, they often spread over thousands of acres. The mostly flat and obstacle-free land allows for the use of high-capacity equipment and helps crews work despite uncertain weather conditions. When the timing is right, fields are sown in record time, and overly wet ground is left alone during sowing and harvesting periods.
In the Midwest, soils are very fertile, climate conditions optimal and rainfall sufficient to consistently ensure high yields. The region’s deep soils are a gift from the last glacial period. Over the millennia, melting ice left a thick layer of sediment covering the middle of the continent. With time, this la yer stabilized and created an immense and fertile plain. We now refer to this broad area as the Corn Belt of the United States of America.
In Illinois alone, agriculture generates more than $9 billion annually. Most farms average around 1,500 acres (600 hectares) and are family-run operations. Farming as family business is indeed a value for many Americans living in the northern part of the country, especially Midwesterners.
A powerful industry has grown thanks to the founding of many agricultural businesses over the last few decades. Today, there are over 950 food-packaging and processing companies that, together, generate almost $13.4 billion in annual sales. In total, Illinois’s agriculture industry generates $22.4 billion, excluding the additional income of many indirect service companies. When these sums are considered, the industry’s importance in the state’s economy becomes even clearer. It comes as no surprise then that highway billboards throughout the Corn Belt advertise agricultural products and services.
Accounting for 75% of all cultivated areas, corn and soy are the greatest crops in Illinois. Consequently, many farmers choose to shorten their crop rotations—a practice that raises the concern of many industry stakeholders. Still, Illinois’ huge harvests—over 12.5 million metric tons of soy and 53 million metric tons of corn—must find buyers each year.
Farms in the Corn Belt are particularly well equipped, and automation and cutting-edge technologies continue to gain in popularity. For grain stocks to reach the market, however, powerful infrastructure is needed, and this is indeed one of the United States’ greatest strengths. The American highway system is well-developed and easily accessible. Whether on Rural Road 1005 East or Highway 57, trucks can safely and efficiently travel back and forth between the terminals and the processing plants lining the main roads and waterways. The Mississippi River and its tributaries—the Missouri, Ohio and Illinois Rivers—connect Chicago to St-Louis, with waters flowing from the heart of Illinois right down to the Gulf of Mexico. There are impressive installations built on the shores of the Mississippi River and many boats navigate its waters. To service the agriculture industry, a wide-reaching rail network also connects with the river, a vital artery for the Corn Belt.