Economic Research Report No. (ERR-120) 85 pp

June 2011

Grassland to Cropland Conversion in the Northern Plains: The Role of Crop Insurance, Commodity, and Disaster Programs

Native grasslands in the U.S. Northern Plains, particularly those located in the Prairie Pothole Region, are excellent breeding habitat for migratory birds. The conversion of grassland to crop production could damage this habitat and affect bird populations. We focus on three questions: How fast are grasslands being converted to cropland in the United States and especially in the Northern Plains? Can a temporary (5-year) ban on crop insurance purchase for converted grassland slow grassland to cropland conversion? More broadly, what has been the role of crop insurance and other farm programs in grassland to cropland conversion? We find that: (1) roughly 770,000 acres (1 percent) of 1997 rangeland acreage in the Northern Plains were converted to cultivated crops by 2007; (2) a 5-year ban on crop insurance purchase for converted grassland could slow but is unlikely to stop grassland to cropland conversion; and (3) the benefits of crop insurance, disaster assistance, and marketing loans increased cropland acreage by about 2.9 percent between 1998 and 2007.

Keywords: Grassland, cropland, crop insurance, marketing loan benefits, disaster assistance, Northern Plains

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