Putting Pasture out to Pasture

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The latest U.S. Census of Agriculture shows that pastured land took a horrific hit between 2002 and 2007 in terms of the amount of landscape it covers. That means a significant privately-owned  tool for protecting and improving soil and water quality and  sequestering greenhouse gases is slipping away at an alarming rate. Also disappearing is a low-cost, healthy source of forage for livestock. Here are the cold, hard facts:

• In 2002, there were over 60 million acres of pasture grasses in the U.S.
• By 2007, the number of pastured acres had nose-dived to some 35 million acres—a 42 percent drop.
• One factor in the loss of pasture? You guessed it — the Ag Census shows that nationally the number of corn acres skyrocketed from 68 million to 86 million between 2002 and 2007.
• The pasture trends in Minnesota somewhat mirror what’s happening nationally. In 2002, the Gopher State had 728,593 acres of pasture. By 2007, we had lost over 3,000 acres of that pasture. That’s not as severe of a decline as we’re seeing throughout the U.S., but it’s still a trend that’s going in the wrong direction.
• Minnesota’s corn acreage stats, like the national averages, run counter to pasture’s decline: this state gained more than 1 million acres of corn between 2002 and 2007.

(Thanks to Land Stewardship Project volunteer Chris Vanecek for ploughing up these numbers.)

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