Public Lands & Waters photo



Sky-high crop prices and unlimited government-subsidized crop insurance have triggered the conversion of a staggering 23 million acres of grassland into row crops since 2008, according to a new study that used satellite data to estimate the loss.

From this story in the Des Moines Register_:_
Soaring crop prices and access to unlimited insurance led U.S. farmers to convert wildlife habitat into farmland, says a new study from two environmental groups. Farmers converted more than 23 million acres of grassland, shrub land and wetlands between 2008 and 2011 in order to plant more corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops, according to a report released Monday by Environmental Working Group and Defenders of Wildlife.

The report, which used U.S. Agriculture Department satellite data to estimate the rate of conversion, said the influx of wilderness to row crops included more than 8.4 million acres of corn, more than 5.6 million of soybeans and nearly 5.2 million to grow winter wheat. Most of the habitat was in states in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest, but some of the highest rates of habitat conversion were in drought-plagued portions of West Texas and Oklahoma.

According to the story, the report found that 11 states had experienced habitat losses of at least one million acres in the past three years, and that habitat losses were greatest in counties that received the largest amounts of federal crop insurance subsidies. According to the group, Farm Bill conservation programs must be fully funded and the federal crop insurance program must be reformed to avert long-term environmental disaster.

Wow. Twenty-three million acres, much of it former CRP ground, much of it highly-erodible or fragile grasslands of questionable crop production value located in states where grass is, quite literally, the only thing holding the soil to the ground. Throw in a persistent, long-term drought in many of those same areas and it’s no wonder that many are now beginning to wonder if we’re setting ourselves up for a catastrophic repeat of the 1930s.

Thoughts? Reaction? Any plains states readers already seeing the effects of grassland losses, in terms of loss of hunting and fishing opportunities?