Agricultural Conservation: Converting Grassland to Cropland by United States Government Accountability Office

By United States Government Accountability Office

The nation's final grassland has numerous very important advantages, corresponding to offering land for grazing and natural world habitat for lots of at-risk species. despite the fact that, over the last three centuries approximately 1/2 the grassland has been switched over to different makes use of, mostly cropland. as well as wasting vital grassland values, such conversions may end up in elevated spending on federal farm courses, equivalent to crop coverage, particularly in marginal parts. This booklet examines: the level of grassland conversions to cropland and the price of farm application funds for those newly switched over cropland acres; the relative significance of farm software funds as opposed to different components in manufacturers' judgements to transform grassland to cropland; and, any impression the Sodbuster conservation provision - which locations soil erosion criteria on yes switched over land - has had on proscribing grassland conversions. This publication is an excerpted and edited variation.

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35 million acres. Table 5. 00 Source: GAO’s analysis using data from South Dakota State University, NRCS, NASS, RMA, FSA, and Drovers’ Inc. Notes: (1) We assumed a decision was made to convert to crop production in 2003 and carried forward through 2007. (2) The net change in income is the result of comparing the alternate income streams from cropping (corn, soybeans, and spring wheat) versus grazing (cow-calf operation). (3) Both herd liquidation and conversion costs were amortized over a 5-year period from 2003 to 2007 at a 6 percent rate of interest.

Current information on the extent of conversions is insufficient to justify the Sod Saver proposal. Existing policy—referring to the current conservation compliance provisions, including Sodbuster—is effectively controlling soil erosion on highly erodible land. On the other hand, the Sod Saver approach is supported by a number of wildlife, environmental, and conservation organizations, as well as certain cattle industry interests. These organizations include, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the North Dakota and South Dakota chapters of the Wildlife Society, and the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.

Nearly 44 percent of officials in North Dakota provided a similar response. Table 6. 6 Source: GAO survey results. USDA AND SOME STAKEHOLDER ORGANIZATIONS HAVE OFFERED A PROPOSAL TO DISCOURAGE GRASSLAND CONVERSIONS To discourage future conversions, USDA and some stakeholder organizations have suggested a proposal known as Sod Saver that would make certain grassland—primarily native grassland—ineligible for farm program payments if it is converted to cropland. USDA’s proposed legislative language—issued in April 2007—applies to rangeland and native grassland not used for crop production at any time during the previous 6 years preceding the effective date of the 2007 farm bill.

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