Forecasting Unintended Consequences of Grassland Conversion

Written collaboratively by Roger Gates, Ben Turner, Melissa Wuellner and Barry Dunn (former SDSU College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences Dean, former SDSU Extension Director).   Continuing implementation of the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, which includes programs such as SodSaver and policies such as conservation compliance (restraining cultivation on highly erodible or marginal lands), provides incentives to enhance conservation of grasslands. However, these policies will likely only slow, rather than reverse, recent trends of expansion of cultivation for crop production into existing grasslands. Driven by economics, policy, and social shifts in rural America, this is certainly a complex problem worthy of our ongoing attention. Systems Thinking: Investigating Soil Environmental Risk Systems thinking, which combines both qualitative (descriptive observation) and quantitative (numerical, requiring measurement) data with computer simulation, is a methodology for investigating and interpreting complex problems. Using information from farmers and ranchers across South Dakota, combined with USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Natural Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Census Bureau data, SDSU investigators developed a systems model to forecast land use change across the northern Great Plains (SD, NE, ND, WY, MT). Soil Environmental Risk (SER) was also assessed at the regional level based on varying degrees of cultivation intensity across diffe

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