Changing crop prices was the No. 1 factor that farmers in eastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota considered when deciding whether or not to convert grassland to cropland, according to the 2015 Farmland Decision Survey.

Of the 1,026 producers who responded to the survey, 40 percent had converted some native or tame grassland to cropland in the last 10 years. However, 28 percent of the producers had also converted some cropland to grassland.

The mail survey, done by South Dakota State University, North Dakota State University and Iowa State University researchers, was designed to assess the impact of land-use changes in the Prairie Pothole Region. Producers in 37 South Dakota counties and 20 North Dakota counties participated in the survey.

From 2006 to 2011, cropland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program in North and South Dakota decreased from 5.0 million to 3.8 million acres with most of the tracts returned to cropland, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As would be expected, 75 percent of the farmers who converted grass to cropland used the new ground to plant corn or soybeans, while the remainder planted wheat on the new cropland. Larry Janssen, an agricultural economics professor at South Dakota State University, now retired, and one of the survey authors, said that mirrors current producer output.

Nearly 90 percent of the respondents raised corn and/or soybeans in the past 10 years. Most were fulltime farmers and the average size of their farms was 1,686 acres with more than 70 percent of the land devoted to raising crops.

Nearly half of North Dakota respondents raised wheat each year compared to only 28 percent of South Dakota respondents. Very few respondents in either state increased their wheat acreage in comparison to other crops,” Janssen said.

Land going back to grass was primarily due to new CRP or Wetland Reserve Program sign-ups. according to the survey. Only 7 percent of respondents turned CRP land into grass or hay acres.

In the next decade, less than 10 percent of the respondents anticipated converting either native or tame grassland to cropland. A greater share, 12.6 percent, plan to convert cropland to grassland or pasture.

“Overall, producers project more land use stability in the next 10 years than in the past 10 years,” Janssen said. “This result is partly due to uncertainty about future crop and livestock prices, farm program provisions, renewable energy policies, agricultural technology changes and other factors that affect land-use decision making.”

About South Dakota State UniversityFounded in 1881, South Dakota State University is the state’s Morrill Act land-grant institution as well as its largest, most comprehensive school of higher education. SDSU confers degrees from eight different colleges representing more than 175 majors, minors and specializations. The institution also offers 32 master’s degree programs, 15 Ph.D. and two professional programs. The work of the university is carried out on a residential campus in Brookings, at sites in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City, and through Cooperative Extension offices and Agricultural Experiment Station research sites across the state.