PDF _ RL33950 - Land Conversion in the Northern Plains
5-Apr-2007; Megan Stubbs; 16 p.

Abstract: Land is being converted from native grass or rangeland into crop production in the Northern Plains region, especially in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. Advocates of wildlife protection and enhancement, and grazing interests, are concerned that landowners in this region will continue to convert grasslands to crop production, especially to corn production, as long as market prices remain high. As the rate of land conversion accelerates, those concerned suspect it will have significant environmental impacts and reduce the amount of land available for both wildlife habitat and grazing. They are seeking changes in public policy that might slow, halt, or reverse this process.

The availability of reliable and timely data to examine these concerns is limited. Though not enough time has passed to document current trends in periodic surveys, anecdotal evidence from numerous sources suggests that grassland conversion to cropland is being observed more frequently in the Northern Plains than in years past. Identified data sets — each offering different time frames, collection techniques, and insights on this topic — indicate a shift in land use in the region. Questions concerning exactly how much land is being converted to cropland, where this land is located, and what forces are driving the change can be only partially examined with the limited data currently available.

While the forces encouraging the conversion of land are not discussed in depth in this report, it is widely thought that the recent push for renewable energy from biofuels, rising market prices for corn, and advances in biotechnology are intensifying the conversion rate. Some of the possible conversion forces, such as expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contract acres, commodity support program policy, and existing conservation compliance policy, might be reviewed by Congress in the context of the upcoming farm bill. Discussion on topics such as current policy, technological advances in crop production, changes in wildlife habitat and population, regional economics, and environmental sustainability could assist anticipated farm bill discussions.

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Topics: Agriculture, Natural Resources, Information

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