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Report: We lost over 2.5 million acres of grassland in one year

Michael Zimny

This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

The World Wildlife Fund has released a report showing the Great Plains lost over 2.5 million acres of intact grassland from 2018 to 2019.

The report shows that, for the second year in a row, grassland plow-up across the Great Plains accelerated.

An estimated 2.6 million acres of grassland were plowed up, primarily to make way for row crop agriculture. And within the Northern Great Plains, home of South Dakota, nearly 600,000 acres were plowed up during that same period.

Patrick Lendrum is the science lead for the World Wildlife Fund's Northern Great Plains program. He says it's a sign of markets transforming South Dakota's landscape.

"Temperate grasslands are one of the least protected and most at risk biomes because of this crop conversion in our area, but we need crops to feed the world."

South Dakota has a relatively large amount of prairie grassland. The federal government is paying for some of it.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays farmers to plant permanent vegetation, usually native grasses, on marginal land instead of crops. This is the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, which comes with various environmental benefits.

More land in CRP means cleaner streams, less fertilizer runoff, and like forests, grasslands play a role in sequestering and storing carbon—mostly in the soil.

However, in the last decade, the nation's conservation reserve has been greatly reduced.

Farmers have been making money growing corn and soybeans. They're bidding up prices for land, and landowners are cashing in.

The World Wildlife Fund supports policies and programs that protect grasslands. Patrick Lendrum says programs like CRP are invaluable.

"South Dakota is continually one of the largest states enrolling in the grassland Conservation Reserve Program."

Read the World Wildlife Fund's full Plowprint Report here.

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