Cropping Patterns Now
Nationally, cropping patterns have changed over the last 80 years. New corn hybrids and irrigation have allowed corn to be grown further north and west than they were in the 1920s and 30s. Irrigation water in the central valleys of California has opened up and intensified agriculture there. Cotton is now a major crop in the Southwest. Soybeans became a source of raw materials for new plastics in the 1940s; and then World War II disrupted imports of the crop. So, farmers could make more money planting soybeans, and the crop is now planted throughout the upper Midwest.

Today, farmers in Nebraska still plant different crops in different parts of the state. The eastern part of the state gets more rain, so farmers plant corn, wheat, oats, soybeans, barley, or sorghum. Western Nebraska gets less rain. Farmers in western Nebraska plant wheat, rye, hay, sunflowers, and beans – kidney, pinto, black, and pinto beans. Sugar beets – a high water using crop – are also planted intensively around Scottsbluff in the Nebraska panhandle. But the sugar beets are supported by extensive ditch irrigation systems that were built around the turn of the 20th Century.

Corn is still the state's most important crop. New uses for corn are being discovered all the time. Corn is used in animal feed and breakfast cereal. Corn is also processed into ethanol, a type of gasoline for cars and trucks. Some farmers in Nebraska grow crops that are made into special foods such as salad dressing, barbeque sauce, beer, potato chips, and sausage. Nebraska farmers sell their crops and products to people around the world.

Nebraska livestock growers produce beef, pork, lamb, poultry, as well as buffalo and other more exotic animals for customers around the world.

Some farmers have shifted to organic operation like Libby Creek Farms in York, Nebraska, raising certified organic vegetables, fruit, flowers, and herbs. In Minden, one farmer grows hydroponic tomatoes in a 10-acre greenhouse. The tomatoes are grown in rock wool rather than soil, and they are fed liquid nutrients through a network of troughs. The climate-controlled greenhouse filled with hydroponic tomatoes is a long ways from the grasshopper-infested fields of Nebraska's Dust Bowl days.

Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.