Farmers convert grassland to crop production

Published online: Feb 21, 2013

High commodity prices might be contributing to the disappearance of grassland.

A new study indicates that 1.3 million acres of grassland have been lost over a five-year period in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Chris Wright is with the Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence at South Dakota State University.

"The Corn Belt is moving westward and northward into drier and cooler landscapes," Wright told Brownfield Ag News. "And I think in response to high crop prices farmers are converting hay pastures or grass pasture and native prairie into cropland."

The study says the shift away from grassland hasn't been seen in the Corn Belt since the 1920s and `30s during rapid mechanization of U.S. agriculture. Wright says there is cause for concern about the results of the study.

"We did find that a lot of this conversion is concentrated on lands that are classified as highly erodible," said Wright. "So there is the issue of what is the potential for erosion off these lands."

Grassland conversion between 2006 and 2011 was concentrated mostly in North Dakota and South Dakota, east of the Missouri River.