Fifteen years ago, the U.S. wasn’t just the top producer of the world’s corn, it was the corn market. As of today, it’s less than half. What happened?

The change isn’t a product of the U.S. growing less corn to send out—with the exception of a dramatic dip around 2013, due to the drought—it’s that other places are growing so much more of it.

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So, why are we getting so much more corn worldwide? Part of it is that corn is so easy to grow in so many climates—as both Ukraine and Brazil have been very successfully experimenting with over the last few years. But the other reason is that we also have so much more to do with it, particularly because the rise of corn is also feeding another rise: the rise in global meat consumption.

Most of the corn we grow isn’t eaten by the ear, it’s not even eaten by the syrup or sweetener (although that accounts for more of it than the butter-and-salt version you pick up in the summer). It’s actually mostly being eaten by animals, and as the amount of meat being eaten around the world steadily climbs—as it has been for the last few decades—crop production is being ratcheted up to feed them as much as us.

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Top Image: Cornfield / fishhawk; Chart: USDA ERS

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