The nation's remaining grassland has several important benefits, such as providing land for grazing and wildlife habitat for many at-risk species. However, over the past 3 centuries about half of the grassland has been converted to other uses, principally cropland. In addition to losing important grassland values, such conversions may result in increased spending on federal farm programs, such as crop insurance, especially in marginal areas. GAO examined (1) the extent of grassland conversions to cropland and the cost of farm program payments for these newly converted cropland acres; (2) the relative importance of farm program payments versus other factors in producers' decisions to convert grassland to cropland; and (3) any impact the Sodbuster conservation provision--which places soil erosion standards on certain converted land--has had on limiting grassland conversions.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Agriculture||To better understand the extent to which farm programs, such as crop insurance, and conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, may be working at cross purposes, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Economic Research Service, the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency, and the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to jointly study this issue and report their findings to the Secretary and the Congress.|
|Department of Agriculture||To provide policymakers and stakeholders with more comprehensive and current information on the extent of native grassland conversions to cropland, the associated farm program costs of these conversions, and their impact on natural resources, the Secretary of Agriculture should annually track native grassland conversions to cropland in those geographic areas where such conversions can occur.|