The Midwest is known as the “Breadbasket of the world,” because the region essentially feeds the world with its agricultural productivity. Although the entire region has that reputation, there are different sub-regions within the Midwest region that may have nothing to do with large scale agriculture, such as the Rust belt, the Ozarks and the Northwoods. The Northwoods is a region, made up of northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which has little to no agricultural activity (Feldman, 2003, 59). The state of Wisconsin made a concentrated effort in the 1890’s and early twentieth century to sell the cutover region, a region in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula that was completely logged, to Europeans to use for farming (Gough, 1991, 4). What greeted these migrants was a hard life. “’Stump farmers’ are the unfortunate individuals who attempted agriculture in the north and were known to face the insurmountable odds of poor soils, a short growing season, and remoteness from markets for the dairy products that were to be their main source of income” (Hudson, 2002). After years of attempting to turn the cutover region into an agricultural region, the effort was abandoned. “The land must be restocked and the young timber must be given a chance to grow on all lands which are essentially forest soil and not desirable for agriculture” (Bawden, 1997). This statement was released by a forestry commission that was formed in 1897. When the cutover region was determined to be reforested, a concentrated restoration effort ensued. “By 1912 the state’s forest reserve had grown to 400,000 acres… by the 1960’s over two thirds of northern Wisconsin was forested” (Bawden, 1997). The Northwoods was becoming what it is now: a beautiful, forested area recognized for its beauty and options for recreation and retreat.
What is known about the Northwoods is that it has a landscape that is dominated by trees instead of crops; what isn’t known about it is where the boundaries of the Northwood’s are. The end product of this investigation will be a series of maps that clearly outline where the Northwoods boundaries lie based off of a lack of agricultural activity.
The data used in this project was retrieved from the 2007 Census of Agriculture, gathered from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website. Specific agricultural data was retrieved for the crops that are most prevalent by county in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The downloaded data needed to be reconfigured in Excel so the data would properly merge into the ArcMap shapefiles. The data was then imported to ArcMap, joined and then mapped. All but one of the maps were not normalized in any way; the reason it wasn’t is because the crop data is so specific that the percentages shown on the maps would be shown in ten thousandths of a percent and percentages that low are hard to interpret. Instead, mapping the raw data was done to show where the crop is grown and where it isn’t. The only map that was normalized was the “Percent Agriculture” map where the total acres of cropland were normalized by total acres in the county. Some of the maps created were overlaid with maps that other people created which yielded strong patterns.
The Flow Chart above shows the process of gathering, editing and creating maps. Trapezoids signify a data base, squares signify a procedure and the elongated circle signifies a final product.
In short this is what I have done:
- Gathered 2007 agricultural data by county for the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan
- Reconfigured the downloaded data into Excel
- Added the data to Arcmap and joined the data tables
- Created maps displaying the data (fifteen maps in total)
- Used Adobe Illustrator to clean up the maps and create a JPEG
The following series of maps were produced in relation to the data that was collected. Most of the maps are crop specific while a few are broad. The “Percent Agriculture” map (Figure 2) breaks down counties into five categories ranging from zero to ninety five percent of the land being used for agricultural purposes. The map has a distinct region where less than fifteen percent of the land in every county is used for agriculture. When this region is overlaid with climate data, there is a definite correlation between the two sets of data showing that counties in cooler regions of the state account for less percentage of total agriculture. Additionally, if the “Percent Agriculture” map is combined with a “Spodosol Soil” map (Figure 13), it is clear that there isn’t much agricultural activity in those counties that have spodosol soil. The maps that are crop specific, such as those presenting soybeans and orchards, show that there is significant agricultural produce within the Northwoods. These counties are able to have agricultural activity mainly because the climate is warmer and the spodosol soil isn’t present. Regions such as the “Banana belt” along the southern coast of the Upper Peninsula are a prime example of the successful combination of warmer weather and fertile soil within the Northwoods.
Figure 1-The Northwoods in these three states is located in the northern part of each state and is outlined in a thick black line. The darker county that falls within this Northwoods region in Michigan is a county where 15.02% of the land is under agricultural use. There are a few other counties in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan that fall in the 0-15% agricultural use and all but one of them do not line up with a major city.
Figure 2-Farms in these three states are located more toward the southern portion of each state and away from the major population centers. An interesting spot on the map is present in Central Wisconsin where there is a significant difference between the large number of farms represented in Marathon county compared to every county north east of it.
Figure 3- Farms in these three states are located more toward the southern portion of each state and away from the major population centers. An interesting spot on the map is present in Central Wisconsin where there is a significant difference between the large number of farms represented in Marathon county compared to every county north east of it.
Figure 4-Barley in these three states is concentrated in the Red River Valley, central Minnesota and central Wisconsin, with other areas scattered throughout all three states. Notice how the locations of harvested barely are presented in an arc shape, in a range approximately the same distance from Lake Superior.
Figure 5-It is obvious that the majority of the corn harvested in these three states isn’t grown close to Lake Superior. Also to note is the “line” that is noticeable from northeast Minnesota to Green Bay and then straight east until Lake Huron. The heaviest concentration of corn grown for grain production is in southwest Minnesota and in southern Wisconsin.
Figure 6-Most corn silage grown in these three states occurs in Wisconsin, along with corn silage grown northwest of the Twin Cities and in parts of Michigan. Corn silage growth is concentrated where the diary industry is highest in these three states.
Figure 7- Oats in these three states is heavily grown in northwest Minnesota, and throughout the southern two thirds of Wisconsin. The growth of oats throughout the state of Michigan is sparse. An interesting thing displayed here is the growth of oats along the southern shore of the Upper Peninsula where there is otherwise very little agricultural activity.
Figure 8- Orchards in these three states are heavily concentrated along the eastern side of Lake Michigan. Wisconsin has orchards throughout the state and Minnesota has orchards around the Twin City area.
Figure 9- The primary location where soybeans are grown in these states is in the southern and western portion of Minnesota. Soybeans are also grown in the lower two thirds of Wisconsin and in the southern two thirds of Michigan.
Figure 10- Spring Wheat is primarily found in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and around the southern and western sides of the Twin Cities. Wisconsin and Michigan have little or no significant amounts of Spring Wheat harvested.
Figure 11- Winter wheat in these three locations is primarily in the south and east part of Wisconsin and scattered throughout the lower part of Michigan. Minnesota has very little winter wheat harvested compared to the other two states, with most of the activity occurring in the Red River Valley.
Figure 12- Forested area in these three states is located in the northern parts of each state. The only major exception to this is on the south-west side of Wisconsin, which is considered the “Driftless” area. In southwest Minnesota, where there is a heavy agricultural presence, it is almost treeless.
Figure 13- Spodosol soil is very poor soil for growing crops because it is very acidic. Spodosol soil in these states is mainly found in northern Michigan and Wisconsin, with a smaller presence in north eastern Minnesota.
Figure 14- Average July temperatures in these three states vary, sometimes with a range of almost a fifteen degree Fahrenheit difference. Temperature is a key factor in determining what crops, if any, can be grown. The median temperature line almost follows the counties where the percentage of land use is greater than 15%.
Figure 15- This map is a combination of a few of the previous maps: The “Percent Agriculture” map (Figure 2) is the base map and is overlaid by the “Spodosol” map (Figure 14), the “Average July High Temperature” map (Figure 15), and finally my original delineated “Northwoods Region” (outlined in Figure 2). This map expresses how the Northwoods region, influenced by the soil type and by the average temperature, is a difficult agricultural area.
The Northwoods is a sub-region within the Midwest region. Since the boundaries of the Northwoods are relative, my intent was to show where the Northwoods is by displaying the lack of agricultural activity. By creating various maps and overlying some maps with other maps, there is a clear region of northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota where there is very little to no agricultural activity. This region also has lower temperatures in summer, a strong presence of spodosol soil and heavily forested areas. These are foundational characteristics for a region to be called the Northwoods. Without them it wouldn’t truly be a Northwoods.
Bawden, Timothy. 1997. Wisconsin Land and Life. Madison: UW Press.
Feldman, James. 2003. Planning a Wilderness. The Wisconsin Magazine of History 86 (4) 59
Gough, Robert J. 1991. Richard T. Ely and the Development of the Wisconsin Cutover. The Wisconsin Magazine of History 75 (1): 2-38
Hudson, John C. 2002. Across This Land. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.