SDSU researchers predict that over the next two decades, the amount of land used for growing crops in the northern Great Plains will increase. They say that means the amount of grassland will decrease, creating some potential risks.
Researchers undertaking this study spoke with stakeholders about a number of factors and looked at data to develop a model for land use change across the northern Great Plains in the coming years. They found that economics, policy, budget constraints on conservation agencies, as well as social change is driving the expansion of croplands into existing grasslands. Benjamin Turner is an Assistant Professor of Agriculture at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He says the model shows that the highest quality farmland is already being utilized.
“Conversion is going to increase, but it’s not going to increase on the highest productive potential land,” Turner says. “It’s going to continue to increase on lands with certain limitations that make it, if not managed correctly and if not thought about intentionally beforehand, makes it very susceptible to risk.”
Those risks include wind and water erosion. Researchers say one of the goals of the study is to encourage people to think about the unintended consequences of land-use decisions. Melissa Wuellner is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Natural Resource Management at SDSU. She says one of the next steps is to understand the long term effects of erosion on watersheds in South Dakota.
“What happens on the landscape definitely affects what happens downstream,” Wuellner says. “And we’ve seen that I think a lot in some of our surrounding states where you’re starting to see people who are downstream care about what’s happening upstream and in the upland areas.”
Researchers say there are a number of things that can help reduce risk, like integrating livestock with crop production. They say many producers are working to promote good land stewardship.