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Land use study concludes no uniform movement of habitat to cropland in Midwest

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[November 11, 2013]  BLOOMINGTON -- A new study of historical land use patterns across seven Midwestern states -- including Illinois -- reveals little net movement of habitat to cropland and negligible impact on land use even by federal program crops or those covered by crop insurance.

The study, commissioned by seven Midwestern state Farm Bureaus, was conducted by Decision Innovation Solutions of Urbandale, Iowa. The analysis used a variety of analytical techniques and tools. Data sets for the years 2007 through 2012 served as the point of reference.

The primary purposes of the study were twofold: (1) to estimate the degree to which land use changes have occurred in the states; and (2) to identify potential factors contributing to land use changes.

Notable conclusions of the study include the following:

  • Since 2007, only 3 percent of the total land area in the seven-state study area shifted away from grassy habitat.

  • There was a net move toward grassy habitat from nonagricultural land.

  • 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.

  • The 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.

Other conclusions include the following:

  • To base policy decisions solely upon results from the USDA's Cropland Data Layer data sets can lead to less-than-optimal outcomes with regard to land use patterns, especially when using earlier data sets.

  • The study of land use change is a complex issue that cannot be reduced to a few variables.

  • Land use across the seven Midwestern states studied is very diverse, with USDA using more than 130 categories to classify land use in its annual data layer.

  • Land use continues to evolve in the Midwest, just as it has for centuries. New crops emerge and others fade away as market demand changes over time.

  • Results from this study confirm that land use changes reflect a wide range of changes in land uses.

  • The Conservation Reserve Program continues to perform as intended, which is to provide for flexibility in total U.S. acreage devoted to the production of food, fiber and fuel, while protecting more ecologically sensitive land.

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"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.

"Our state Farm Bureaus felt that to adequately address land use challenges, we needed to understand what was happening and why," Miller said. "A complete analysis that studied changes both to and from wildlife habitat had not been done, and this was the impetus behind our multistate study."

Other land use studies have focused on the extent to which land is being converted to crop production, or more specifically, to federal farm program crops or to crops covered by crop insurance. Such studies lack the context and analysis to properly measure the impact of other factors on land use. Factors like water availability, net returns to crop production, conservation program changes, land values and alternative opportunities for the land all affect land use decisions.

"We are pleased with the ability of the results to convey a more complete picture on this important topic. By working with several Midwestern states, we have a much better understanding of the nature of land use change in this key U.S. region," said Spencer Parkinson, executive director of Decision Innovation Solutions.

"No one is more interested in knowing and understanding the reasons behind land use trends than the American farmer," said Philip Nelson, president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. "The analysis shows that just as it has for centuries, land use continues to evolve and is not just the result of farm policy or farm risk management tools."

[Text from file received from Illinois Farm Bureau]

Decision Innovation Solutions is an Iowa-based economic research firm dedicated to giving agribusiness decision-makers the tools and information needed to chart their own direction. DIS team members use their production and agribusiness experience and insight, coupled with proprietary analysis tools, to help clients ask better questions, receive better answers and make better decisions.

The Illinois Farm Bureau is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a national organization of farmers and ranchers. Founded in 1916, IFB is a nonprofit, membership organization directed by farmers who join through their county Farm Bureau. IFB has a total membership of more than 400,000, a voting membership of more than 82,000 and represents 3 out of 4 Illinois farmers.

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