Corn Grows Best in the Midwest


Reclaimed land at Cottage Grove

There is a farm in southern Illinois that is growing more corn, hay, wheat, and soybeans than other farms in the area. What’s special about this farm?

It used to be a coal mine!

That’s right. Cottage Grove Mine has 15 million tons of recoverable coal, which can be used to bring electricity to homes, schools, and other buildings.

Starting a Farm

So how does a coal mine turn into farmland? After all of the coal is taken out of the ground, land reclamation happens. Land reclamation is when coal companies restore the land to what it was like before a coal mine was there. Since Illinois is a farming state, Cottage Grove Mine turned back into a farm.

To make the coal mine into a farm, new soil had to be put into the ground. Then, scientists used the latest technology to prepare and aerate (put air into) the soil to make sure plants would be able to grow there.

Cottage Grove Crops

The first type of plants they grew at the new farm were cover crops. They get this name because they are hardy plants that grow quickly and create ground cover. They have special kinds of roots that bring nutrients closer to the surface so plants that grow there later can be healthy. Cover crops also bring insects, birds, and mammals to the area.

After the cover crops made the soil better, the real crops could be planted and farming began. Now, Cottage Grove has high yields of crops that are as good as or better than the county average.

The scientists working for Cottage Grove did such a good job with their land reclamation that they won an award: the U.S. Department of the Interior Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Reclamation Award! They also received honors from the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals and the National Association of State Land Reclamationists.

Now the farmland at Cottage Grove is even more productive than it was before the mine was built. That’s the goal of reclamation: make the land better!

Be sure to see the accompanying lesson: How a Coal Mine Turns into a Working Farm