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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Corn Production in Minnesota and the US

Grade Level

Grades 9-12


To provide students with the opportunity to analyze data regarding the distribution of corn production in Minnesota and the United States. While analyzing maps, students will look for the patterns that exist regarding production, any connection that exists between environmental conditions and corn production, as well as any changes that have occurred in the production of corn over the past 50 years.


Two to three 60-minute class periods

Background—Agricultural Connections

In order to be successful, farmers need to understand that the environment significantly impacts the types of crops they produce. The amount of precipitation, soil type, climate, vegetation, and length of growing season all impact the types of crops farmers produce. Today, with the population growth in the United States and around the world, farmers are now producing more product on less land due to changes made to the types of seeds and farming techniques used. However, the environment still has the greatest impact on what crops are grown where. For example, corn and rice require different amounts of water and different types of soil in order to be produced. The landscape also needs to fit the farming technique used to produce these products. Rice requires rice paddies and lots of precipitation. Corn, on the other hand, grows better on flat areas of land and requires a significant amount of water in order to be productive, but it does not need to be grown in a water field. Regardless of where in the world you are farming, farmers need to understand these aspects in order to have a productive farm and produce the most from their land. Farmers in Minnesota need to do this as well. In this lesson, students will analyze the characteristics that farmers have to understand in order to determine where to produce various agricultural products in Minnesota.

Interest Approach - Engagement*

Post pictures of different products that are made from corn (select items from the Corn – A Golden Treasure document – listed in materials needed for this lesson). Ask students to identify what these products have in common. (Hopefully students will identify they are all made from corn. If not, inform the students that these items are all made with corn.) Inform the students that corn is one of the leading agricultural products produced in Minnesota. Ask students to hypothesize where corn is grown in Minnesota (project a blank map of Minnesota on the board or hand out a blank map of Minnesota to each student) and share their answers with a partner. Have each pair share their answers with the class, and while the students are sharing their answers, the teacher will mark on the map projected on the board which areas of Minnesota students think corn is grown (north, south, east, west).

Activity 1
  1. What is corn and what impact does it have on mankind? Show the students the "Corn" video from the History Channel "Mankind: The Story of All of US" (4 minutes) Have the students answers these two questions while watching the video:
    1. What is corn?
    2. What impact does corn have on mankind?
    Have students share their answers with their neighbor. Have 3 - 4 pairs of students share their answers to these questions and discuss the questions as a class.
  2. Provide each student with a copy of Handout 1, A-Maizing Corn, to read and gather information about corn. Discuss as a class the two questions above (What is corn and what impact does it have on mankind?) based on information presented in the reading.
  3. Provide each student with a copy of the Minnesota Counties (named) Map 41 and the Corn for Grain 2017 Map 4 (Note: Teachers may also display the digital copies of these maps using their Smart Board and projector). Have the students, on their blank counties map of Minnesota, shade in the counties where the highest corn percentage category (43% or above) is found.
  4. The corn frequency map layer of the crop frequency and climate map could also be helpful. Teachers can demonstrate the data available to the class or have students make observations independently or in small groups. A video tutorial is available.
  5. Provide each student with copies of the following maps: Native Vegetation Map 34, Landforms Map 35, Annual Precipitation Map 36, and Frost-Free Days Map 37. Have the students, individually or in pairs, analyze these maps to determine the types of characteristics (native vegetation, landforms, precipitation, frost-free days) agricultural regions will have to support corn production. Remind students to refer to information presented in the handout "A-Maizing Corn" to assist them in their analysis. Have the students share their analysis with other pairs and with the rest of the class. The students should write down their analysis on the back of their Minnesota counties map. (Answers: Landforms–some slope, but mostly rolling hills to moderate slopes; Native Vegetation– mostly prairie; Precipitation–over 25 inches; Frost Free Days–at least 170 days)
  6. Show the students the Corn for Grain 2017 Map 4 on the Smart Board, Food for Thought Color Student Desk Map (colored corn map), Corn for Grain 2012 Map 3 and the corn frequency map to draw conclusions about the distribution of corn production in Minnesota. Have each student write a paragraph on the back of their Minnesota counties map in which they describe the best places to be a corn farmer in Minnesota and explain why. Remind the students that while they are writing this paragraph they should be referring to the information on the maps they were provided with and use information on their maps to support their statements. Important: Explain to the students that they should be focusing on the areas rich in corn production (i.e. southern Minnesota) and not specific counties.
  7. Provide each student with copies of the following maps and handout: Corn for Grain 2012 Map 3, Corn for Grain 2017 Map 4, Minnesota Counties Named Map 41, Ethanol Production in Minnesota Map 27, Beef Cattle in Minnesota Counties Map 11, Dairy Cows in Minnesota Counties Map 9, Hogs and Pigs in Minnesota Counties Map 12, the Food For Thought Color Student Desk Map and crop frequency map. Have the students work individually or in pairs to analyze these maps and complete the following tasks:
    1. On a separate piece of paper, have the students list the counties that show a change in corn as a percentage of farmland from 2012 to 2017.
    2. Based on your analysis of the maps, has there been an increase or decrease in the percentage of farmland used for the production of corn? Explain your answer.
    3. Are there counties that grew corn in 2017 that did not grow corn in 2012? Which counties are they?
    4. If the corn region is growing in Minnesota, identify the cardinal direction the corn region is moving. Based on your analysis of the maps provided, are there differences in the physical environment, rainfall, and frost-free days in these new regions where corn is being grown?
    5. Using the data from the maps and the reading about corn (A-Maizing Corn), have students list factors that have contributed to the growth in corn production in Minnesota.
    6. Based on their analysis of the maps provided, students are to individually write a paragraph in which they share their analysis regarding the corn production in Minnesota and include at least three specific pieces of information from the maps to support their statements regarding the production of corn in Minnesota and whether it is increasing or decreasing. (Possible reasons: Increased uses of corn in a variety of products, increased use of corn as a source of fuel-ethanol, increased return on farm investment (price per bushel), improved hybrid products which will grow in shorter growing seasons, and irrigation.)
    7. Assessment: Students should be assessed on their analysis of the maps and their ability to support their statements regarding the growth of corn production in Minnesota using information gathered from the maps and resources provided.
Activity 2: Making a Choropleth Map of United States Corn Production

Background: Corn is the most frequently grown crop in the United States; it represents a vital part of the agriculture economy. Activity 2 will teach students how to make a choropleth map about corn production so they can analyze the impact this activity has on the United States and individual states.

Note: Depending on the students' skill level, consider reviewing the concept of choropleth mapping, how to make a choropleth, selecting classes and ranges, and its importance for representing data. (see Foundational Skills at

  1. Provide students with the blank United States outline map. Ask students to speculate which states may grow the most corn. The students should be able to do this based on their work in Activity 1 of this lesson. If students are struggling to identify states that might grow corn, prompt them to identify states that are large in size and may have more agricultural land available. Also, ask students to recall the characteristics of good corn farmland that they learned in Activity 1 of this lesson.
  2. Provide students with the U.S. Corn Production Table, 2017. Have the students analyze the information presented in the chart. What assumptions can they make regarding corn production by examining the data presented in the chart? Can students identify the large and/or small producers of corn?
  3. Discuss with the students how they can interpret the data provided in the chart and on maps to answer questions about corn production. Remind the students that maps provide a visual representation of information, making data easier to understand. Also, by identifying regions and analyzing their content, maps can be used to organize information in a meaningful way.
  4. The students will construct their own choropleth map to represent corn production for the United States using the data provided in the U.S. Corn Production Table, 2017. Students will complete this map on the blank United States outline map they were given.
    1. First, students must rank the states according to their corn production as indicated on the table. Note: There is no data for Hawaii, Alaska, or Washington D.C. Ask students why there is no data provided for these places.
    2. Next, students must examine the data and determine the classification to be used for determining the categories on the map. For this assignment, students may select from the following four classifications of information: 1) corn planted, 2) corn harvested, 3) yield per acre, and 4) total production in bushels. Students may select natural breaks in the data to determine their categories or they may have five equal groups (categories) comprising nine to ten states.
    3. Students may then create their choropleth map by using the United States outline map. Each range/class (category) will be colored differently. Color selection is based on the values they will represent. Once again, emphasize that darker shades of the same color always indicate greater values while lighter shades indicate lesser values. Categories are distinguished from one another using different colors or different shades of the same color. These colors also indicate which values are greater in comparison to other values. Example of color selections for this map: largest producers of corn (purple), second largest producers (red), third largest producers (orange), small producers (yellow), and smallest producers (white). Reminder: All maps should contain a title, key, source, and author.
  5. After the students have completed their maps, students are to analyze their maps and draw conclusions from the data. Have the students discuss the following questions with a partner and as a class:
    1. What conclusions can be reached from the data regarding corn production?
    2. Which areas/regions of the United States are growing the most corn? The least?
    3. Are there any regional trends apparent in the growth of corn in the United States?
    4. Are there environmental characteristics that influence the location of these regions? (Students may need to refer to their maps from Part One or the world atlas to help them answer this question.)
    5. What does this information mean for each state? What impact does corn production have on the economy of these states?
  6. Assessment: Students should be evaluated on the accuracy of their maps and their discussion of the information provided in both the data and the maps the students created. Students can also be asked to do a writing assignment based on the conclusions they drew from their maps and data.
Local Flavor
  1. Students could analyze local maps to help determine which of these crops could be grown in the areas/regions in which they live. Students would need to analyze maps that contained the following information:
    • Climate
    • Soil types
    • Vegetation
    • Amount of rainfall
    • Length of growing season (connect to latitude)
    • Amount of farmland available
    • Elevation
  2. Invite local farmers in to discuss the process they go through to determine what crops to grow in their fields and how the environment (climate, soil type, vegetation, amount of precipitation, length of growing season) impacts their decisions.
  3. Invite the owner or manager of an ethanol production plant to come in and discuss what impacted their decision to locate their plant where they did.
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
  • The United States is the largest producer of corn. It produced 14,604 million bushels of corn in 2017 – 2018.
  • The United States exported 1,909 million bushels of corn in 2017 – 2018. It is the largest corn exporting country in the world.
  • The United States is the largest consumer of corn in the world. It consumed 12,545 million bushels of corn in 2017 – 2018.
Enriching Activities
  1. World Production of Corn Activity:
    1. Ask students to hypothesize where corn is grown in the world.
    2. Pair students and give each pair a world atlas and a copy of Handout 3: Corn Around the World. Review the instructions on the chart with the students. Have the students complete the chart utilizing information provided in the world atlas. (Hint: To save time, ask half of the student pairs to complete the precipitation and natural vegetation columns and the other half to complete the climate and soils columns. All pairs should complete the latitude column. Once the student pairs have completed their assigned columns, have them share the information they collected with another pair of students who collected information on the other columns. Have both pairs of students share their data.)
    3. After the students have completed the task, have a class discussion regarding the data they collected. Ask the students to describe the environmental conditions of the corn regions around the world. While students are providing answers to this question, the teacher will display a blank outline map of the world on the Smart Board and outline each area/region as reported by the students. Be sure to use a different color pen for each category/column on Handout 3. After students have shared their information and the regions of corn production have been identified on the map, ask the students to answer the following questions:
      • At what latitude bands does corn grow?
        (Answer: Latitude Bands 35-40 and 45-55)
      • What precipitation ranges occur where corn grows?
        (Answer: Mainly in ranges 10- 20 and 20-40 inches)
      • Is corn more likely to grow in grass regions or needle leaf evergreen regions?
        (Answer: Grass or combination grass and broadleaf evergreen, and broadleaf deciduous)
    4. Have the students compare the map of the United States they created in Activity 2 with the map of the world they created in this activity. Ask the students to analyze the maps and draw conclusions regarding the production of corn in the United States and the world.
      • What similarities do they see regarding the regions where corn is produced? What explanations do you have for these similarities? Be sure to use information from your maps and the other resources provided to support your answer.
      • What differences do they see regarding the regions where corn is produced? What explanations do you have for these differences? Be sure to use information from your maps and the other resources provided to support your answer.
    5. Assessment: Students should be evaluated on the accuracy of their maps and their discussion of the analysis of their maps. Students can also be assessed on their comparison of the maps created in Part Two and Part Three to draw conclusions regarding the production of corn.
  2. View the ethanol clip from the Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom free DVD, "Biofuels as Renewable Energy". It may also be viewed directly from the following website: While viewing the film, have students create a T-chart to examine the positive role of ethanol in our state and also any negative consequences of ethanol as a fuel. A few things they might consider: cost, land use, production effects, auto mileage, National Energy Act/energy policies, and auto emissions. What impact is the creation of ethanol having on farmers – positive and negative?
  3. Have students read the article by the Renewable Fuels Association on "How Ethanol is Made?" and the article, "History of Minnesota's Ethanol Program" by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Based on the information provided in these articles and other information the students have gathered, have the students discuss the following questions: What types of fuels power cars, trucks, school buses, and other vehicles? How do we produce and obtain fuels for transportation? What is ethanol? How is corn converted into fuel? How is ethanol delivered to consumers? What are FFVs (Flexible Fuel Vehicles)? What is quality control and why is it important in energy production? What are the benefits and costs of ethanol fuels? How does ethanol compare to petroleum gasoline? What impact is the production of ethanol having on farmers?
  4. Provide students with a copy of Corn – A Golden Treasure. Have students make a list of all the things they have at home that are made from corn or corn by-products or use corn in their production. Have students compete for the largest number of items they can find.
Minnesota Academic Standards
Social Studies - Geography Create tables, graphs, charts, diagrams, and various kinds of maps including symbol, dot, and choropleth maps to depict the geographic implications of current world events or to solve geographic problems. Make inferences and draw conclusions about the physical and human characteristics of places based on maps and other geographic representations and geospatial technologies. Identify the primary factors influencing the regional pattern of economic activities in the United States and the world. Describe patterns of production and consumption of agricultural commodities that are traded among nations. Analyze the interconnectedness of the environment and human activities (including the use of technology) and the impact of one upon the other.

Common Core Connections
Grade 9-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.