From Grassland to Farm to Lawn: Estimating the Environmental Consequences of Historical and Contemporary Land Management Practices in the U.S. Great Plains

Emily Merchant, University of Michigan
Myron P. Gutmann, University of Michigan and National Science Foundation (NSF)
Willaim Parton, Colorado State University
Melannie Hartman, Colorado State University
Susan Lutz, Colorado State University

In the last 150 years, the Great Plains region of the United States has become a major center for agricultural production, and the landscape of the region has changed accordingly. Between 1870 and 1940, Euro-American farmers converted native grassland to cropland, extending from the eastern plains to the western plains. Farming intensified from 1940 to the present and production increased dramatically through the use of new inputs, such as synthetic fertilizer and irrigation, while the amount of land in farms and the number of people on farms contracted. Non-agricultural settlements grew at the same time, particularly in and near urban centers. This paper quantifies the environmental impact of this landscape history in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the entire agricultural life cycle – from the initial plow-up through the retirement of cropland and planting of suburban lawns – focusing on the final piece, post-agricultural land use since 1940.

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Presented in Poster Session 3