In these very weird and awful times, when nobody can leave their own property, it can be nice to look at some maps.
One of the best maps you can look at right now is CropScape, an agricultural map which was recently updated by the USDA. It’s a truly remarkable, if slightly clunky, tool: You can zoom incredibly far and see exactly which crops are being grown, anywhere in the country.
CropScape as a product has been around for quite awhile, dating back to 2008, but it’s only since 2017 that the detail has reached a level where essentially all of the commercial cropland in the country is visible. It is, at its core, a map that shows exactly what crop is being grown and where. That data gets much deeper; you can examine change over time, look into statistics from certain areas and compare them to other areas, add layers of roads and rivers and forests, all kinds of stuff. It’s a product of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, a division of the USDA.
The most recent update shows how many times a crop was planted in the period from 2008 to 2019, which is helpful for examining farming patterns and studying crop rotation. The team also added a category for double-cropped land growing triticale and corn; triticale is a wheat and rye hybrid and growing it with corn has become recently popular in certain areas.
Browsing through the map shows you all kinds of stuff. My hometown, in Pennsylvania, has a substantial acreage of rye, dating to the German immigrants who brought it with them to the New World. Every town in the country has some story like that. We may not be able to travel right now, not physically, but we can still explore.