July 01, 2010

Crop Circles or Dots o' Crops?

What began as an effort to understand the representation of agricultural production in Google Maps placemarks has become an exercise in how much the world loves coffee, tobacco and oranges [1].

Apparently a lot. Or at least a way lot more than they like soybeans. Especially China where the entire country seems awash in a jittery caffeine spill that is slowly seeping down into Southeast Asia.

Of course, the fact that we didn't include rice in our search terms makes these results problematic to say the least. Sigh. I'd like to blame Taylor for this one, but I think that this was my list. Still what's the point of being a grad student if you don't get stuck with the blame? Right?

Still there are some interesting patterns, especially in the English speaking world. In Australia for example, one can see clusters of sugar cane references in the Northeast tropical region surround Cairns where sugar cane is an important crop. The bands of coffee around the coast (and over New Zealand) are no doubt referencing to the drinking of said crop rather than the growing.

Likewise, when we pare down the nine crops to the four which are actually produced in quantity in the U.S. -- corn, wheat, soybeans and tobacco – some intriguing patterns emerge [2]. The tobacco producing regions of Kentucky and the Carolinas emerge and there is clear a transition from corn to wheat as one moves westward and northward. Just as exists in the material world

Next post, we'll take a closer look at some of the other regions of the world (Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia) that also have some interesting distributions of references to crops. Particularly since these places often have very few placemarks at all….stay tuned.

[1] As in previous maps, each location is colored according to which search term in Google Maps produced the highest number of results.

[2] OK, we ditched oranges as well since there is clearly a color related issue. Why can't it be called something distinctive like Apelsin (the word for oranges in Estonian) that would remove any confusion. After all, Apelsin doesn't seem like any other common fruit name! Right?


  1. I see my 'hood (the Pacific NW USA) is hanging around the coffee machine with NewZealand.

  2. I thought that you analized crop circles paranornal phenomena occurencies as first.

  3. I'm amazed at the tobacco usage in the Germany area of Europe.


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