Midwest land use trends studied

Multistate land use study finds no uniform movement of habitat to cropland in Midwest.

A NEW land use study, commissioned by seven state farm bureaus, revealed little net movement of habitat to cropland despite federal program crops or crop insurance subsides.

Decision Innovation Solutions conducted the study, which analyzed historical data to provide assessments of the degree to which land use changes have occurred and to identify potential factors in the land use changes for the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

The study found that since 2007, an estimated 8.5 million acres — just 3% of total land in the seven-state study area — shifted away from grassy habitat.

Taking a closer look, the area planted to corn increased by 3.6 million acres, soybeans by 2.2 million acres, alfalfa by 1.278 million acres and small grains by 1.254 million acres (Table), representing the bulk of the net change.

It is crucial to accurately understand historical changes in land use trends to address resource challenges in these states, which possess some of the most productive soils in the world.

Unlike other land use studies, this study cross-checked the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Cropland Data Layer (CDL) with NASS farmer and rancher land surveys.

While, over time, the advancement in technology has improved the accuracy in identifying the actual amount of grassland with the CDL, in the early years, errors occurred in classifying the types of land cover. Therefore, this study adjusted its methodology to incorporate data from the NASS surveys.

"Land use is a complex matter," said Dave Miller, director of research and commodity services at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. "To fairly assess what and why changes are happening with a limited resource like land, you have to examine it in the right context."

The research confirmed that land use continues to evolve, and no direct correlation was found between farm programs and land use.

"Economic research does not support the notion that crop insurance subsides and net returns alone are the dominant factors contributing to loss of grassy habitat, especially when observed from a regional perspective," according to a report on the study. "Even as economic returns from crop production outpaced those from conservation programs, large net shifts of land toward crop production did not uniformly occur throughout the study area."

Land use decisions are also affected by other factors such as water availability, net returns to crop production, changes in conservation programs, land values and alternative opportunities.

The report also presentes a historical perspective on acreage devoted to crop production from 1995 to 2012, which used a low of 117.7 million acres in 1995 and a high of 124.7 million acres in 2000 to produce a diversity of field crops in the seven states. For 2012, 44% of the land was dedicated to crops, or 124.1 million acres.

Individual results on land use trends for each state were also released.

The complete study results can be found at www.sdfbf.org/resources/handlers/StorageContainer.ashx?path=63f699ea-da1c-47a2-85f6-ad30e89c2305.


Net change in grassy habitat to non-grassy habitat for seven states, from 2007 to 2012


2007 to 2012


net change (acres)

Grassy habitat to corn


Grassy habitat to soybeans


Grassy habitat to alfalfa


Grassy habitat to small grains


Grassy habitat to other ag


Grassy habitat to other oilseeds


Grassy habitat to woody habitat


Grassy habitat to non-ag


Total net change from grassy habitat


Source: Decision Innovation Solutions.


Volume:85 Issue:47

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