In the last four years, 37,000 square miles of prairie and wetlands were converted for crops, analysis finds.
Prairie and other natural landscapes have been plowed up at an unprecedented rate across the nation’s midsection since 2008, especially in the corn belt — which includes Minnesota and the Dakotas — according to an analysis released Monday by a leading conservation group.
Between 2008 and 2011, some 37,000 square miles of grasslands, wetlands and shrublands were transformed into cropland across the nation, said the study by the Environmental Working Group, which uses data analysis to try to influence public policy on public health and conservation issues.
In Minnesota, where half the total land mass is devoted to corn and soybeans, 2,000 square miles of native grassland and wetlands were converted to row crops, the study said. In the Dakotas, a major breeding ground for aquatic birds and grassland species, an area twice that size was plowed up for crops.
Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, said that the land conversion has been propelled by record high commodity prices, demand for ethanol, and by crop insurance programs that guarantee profits for farmers, even on marginal land.