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Stephen Haber ("professor of political science, professor of history, and professor of economics" at Stanford) claims in a 2014 podcast:

the state of Iowa has more farmland suitable for growing corn and wheat than the entire country of Canada.


From some quick Googling:

  • Statistics Canada: In 2021, "Total area of farms" was 153,687,771 acres.

  • USDA: "Total land in farms for Iowa during 2021 was 30.5 million acres."

(But Haber's claim could still be true, if for example most of Iowa's land is suitable for growing corn and wheat, while little of Canada's is.)

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    It would be helpful to show the time of the quotation in the podcast, so that the context and any nuances can be heard. It's over an hour long and I don't want to run through the whole thing. Jul 16, 2023 at 13:38
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    It is rather strange that the podcaster added wheat to the mix. Iowa's climate is not quite suitable for growing wheat. North Dakota's and Kansas's climate is close to ideal, but then again, so is that of southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Guess which grows more wheat, Iowa or those three provinces? Jul 16, 2023 at 22:50
  • @WeatherVane: At around 1.10. (The full transcript is on the right: simply search (Ctrl+F) for say "Iowa" or "corn and wheat".)
    – user62611
    Jul 17, 2023 at 0:39
  • Thanks, that was easy: a search for Iowa brought it up right away. It seems to be an off-the-cuff remark in the context of the USA & Canada economies. Jul 17, 2023 at 7:16
  • I'm still confused regarding why the podcaster added wheat to the equation. The southern portions of western Manitoba, all of Saskatchewan, and eastern Alberta are just about perfect for growing wheat. The primary wheat growing areas of the world are north of the 45th parallel; Iowa is south of the 45th parallel. Iowa is just about perfect for growing corn and soybeans, but not wheat. Jul 23, 2023 at 11:33

2 Answers 2

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The acreage of corn and wheat actually grown is always less than the suitable land acreage, because land has other use besides crops, because other crops are grown too, and because of crop rotation. So comparing the acreage harvested is a difficult comparison.

But let's look at the actual corn and wheat harvest anyway.

Iowa's 2022 State Agriculture Overview shows that about 13 million acres of corn were planted. As another answer shows, not much wheat is planted in Iowa.

Canada's Reuters and Nasdaq report shows that in 2022 about 30 million acres of wheat and corn were planted - double the amount in Iowa.


The OP's quote mentions nothing about actual crops or yields, only the suitability of the land, and this article about global warming discusses the increase in Canada's suitable land:

Canada could be a huge climate change winner when it comes to farmland

Currently, only a million square kilometres in Canada are warm enough for growing crops like wheat, corn and potatoes.

The Wikipedia article about Iowa states that its total land area is

  • Iowa land: 144,669 sq km

So even if the entire state of Iowa were devoted to corn and wheat farming, it would still be only about one seventh of Canada's suitable land area.

But Stephen Haber's podcast was in 2014, and global warming is rapidly increasing the area of suitable land in Canada:

The study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, predicts about 4.2 million square kilometres of Canada that are currently too cold for farming crops like wheat will be warm enough by 2080 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb.

That is four times the present area in a time span of 57 years, so it is quite unlikely that there was a seven-fold increase in the 9 years since the podcast.


Now I'll compare the actual farmland used for arable crops.

From Iowa Farm Facts and
from official Canada statistics in Field crops and hay, Census of Agriculture, 2021

  • 26,256,347: Acres devoted to cropland in Iowa.

  • 92,905,737: Acres of field crops and hay in Canada.

If all the arable crop land was devoted to wheat or corn, Canada has more than three times as much suitable land, by these statistics. And again, it's more than twice the area of the entire state of Iowa.

So the claim is false.


Edit: @reirab questioned the fact that hay is included in Canada's "Field crops and hay" census figures, and whether land used for hay is even suitable for cereal crops.

A subset of the data posted is to be found on a version the same page for Ontario

Total area of field crops and hay - Acres 8,831,431

I'll put that against this report from Glacier FarmMedia which says

...just over 1.5 million acres of hay were harvested in Ontario in 2019

which is about one sixth of the acreage of Ontario's field crops and hay. So although that makes quite a bit of difference, it does not affect the almost three times difference mentioned above all that much.

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    Does suitability for hay imply suitability for corn? This seems non-obvious at best, so it would help to provide a source in the last section backing up those numbers being directly comparable. Also, 'suitability' is at least somewhat subjective (and not entirely binary.) Land that has higher yields per acre and/or requires less irrigation per acre would seem more suitable, for example. Iowa's average corn yield per planted acre is about 25% higher than Canada's. So, at least to me, it seems that answer is not clearly "the claim is false," but more "depends on what you consider suitable."
    – reirab
    Jul 16, 2023 at 18:47
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    @reirab I have addressed your point with an edit. Jul 16, 2023 at 20:43
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    @DavidHammen It's worth noting that 86% of Iowa's total land area is farm land. While the claim does seem to likely not be correct as stated, Iowa still produces more than half the amount of corn of the entire country of Canada, so it's not that outlandish of a claim.
    – reirab
    Jul 17, 2023 at 5:47
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    It might be worth noting that US ethanol policies make growing corn "viable" when it really isn't. You can see this along the US/Canada border in the prairies - near identical soil and climate, Canadian side used for cattle, US side used for corn.
    – Yakk
    Jul 17, 2023 at 14:07
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    @PeterCordes as to your other point my answer tried to address the "suitable" question from as many angles as I could think of. In this instance Iowa will never be able to match Canada, until the dawn of the next ice age. Jul 18, 2023 at 18:54
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Estimates of principal field crop areas shows that in 2021, Canada had 27 million acres dedicated to wheat and corn.
It grows many other crops too, including 22 million acres growing canola.

If it's true that all the farms in Iowa grew nothing but corn and wheat, then yes, this claim would be true.

But, IA-Crop-Production-Annual-01-22.pdf shows that Iowa had 13 million acres of corn, yet it doesn't even mention wheat.

Iowa Farmers Interested In Growing Wheat states:

Not much wheat is grown in Iowa. It's less than 40,000 acres compared to 14.3 million acres of corn planted for grain in 2007.

Perhaps the critical phrase is "suitable for growing", as opposed to actually growing.

Iowa Farm Facts - Living History Farms says:

35.7 million: Acres of land in Iowa
30,622,731: Acres farmed in Iowa

So, if all farmland in Iowa (30.5) were dedicated to growing wheat and corn, it would be more than the amount of land Canada actually uses for those two crops (27), which are a relatively small fraction of the total crop production.

If the claim is that Iowa has more farmland suitable for growing corn and wheat than Canada [uses], it is true, and I suspect that is what the claim is based on (30.5 > 27).

But if the claim is that Iowa has more farmland suitable for growing corn and wheat than Canada [could use], it is false, but I suspect this is what the claim wanted the audience to think.

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    Perhaps the critical phrase is "suitable for growing" -- yes, but I think your answer fails to address this at all.
    – user62611
    Jul 16, 2023 at 3:07
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    Have I got this right? (Wheat + corn farm area in Iowa) is much smaller than (wheat + corn farm area in Canada) is slightly smaller than (all farm area in Iowa) is smaller than (all land in Iowa) is smaller than (wheat + corn + canola farm area in Canada)? This seems enough to conclude that it is highly unlikely the answer is correct. Why do you think it is true (albeit misleading)?
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 16, 2023 at 7:08
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    @Oddthinking. The corresponding numbers are 13 <<< 27 < 30.5 << 35.7 << 49. The question compares a number that could at most be 30.5 with a number that is at least 27, and since 30.5 is larger than 27, its claim is correct. But the comparison is apples to oranges, so what it implies is misleading. ¶ I've clarified my conclusion in the answer. Jul 16, 2023 at 13:19

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