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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Sunflower and Plant Biology Research

Title: Does the conversion of grasslands to row crop production in semi-arid areas threaten global food supplies?)

item Clay, David
item Clay, Sharon
item Reitsma, Kurt
item Dunn, Barry
item Carlson, Gregg
item Horvath, David
item Stone, James
item Smart, Alexander

Submitted to: Global Food Security Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/11/2013
Publication Date: 2/1/2014
Citation: Clay, D.E., Clay, S.A., Reitsma, K.D., Dunn, B.H., Smart, A.J., Carlson, G.G., Horvath, D.P., Stone, J.J. 2014. Does the conversion of grasslands to row crop production in semi-arid areas threaten global food supplies? Global Food Security Journal. 3:22-30. DOI:

Interpretive Summary: This is a perspective review on the sustainability of converting semiarid grasslands into dryland cropping systems. Various factors effecting sustainability of these dryland systems including technological and genetic advances are discussed. The conclusions are that converting semiarid grasslands into dryland cropping systems is possible through the development of novel adapted cultivars, and advances in our understanding of drought stress physiology and water use efficiency. This conversion has advantages in productivity in otherwise low yielding systems, but is sustainable only if cultural practices such as low/no till planting are maintained. It is noted that there are cultural and economic hurdles to sustaining converted grassland to dryland farming that may be needed - particularly in developing countries.

Technical Abstract: In the world’s semi-arid regions, high crop demands have produced short term economic incentives to convert native grasslands to dryland row crop production, while genetic enhancements and equipment have reduced the risk of crop failure. The objectives of this paper were to discuss: 1) the importance of considering long-term sustainability of land use changes semi-arid agricultural systems containing fragile soils; 2) does grassland conversion to row crop production in semi-arid region equate to a loss of sustainability; and 3) what factors that are accelerating the conversion of grasslands to dryland crop production. Findings suggest that the conversion of grasslands to row crop production in semi-arid regions will not reduce sustainability on many soils if conservation practices are followed. However, if conservation practices are not followed the soil long-term sustainability will likely be diminished. To overcome adoption barriers educational programs and management approaches need to be tailored to the cultural and biophysical constraints of individuals and communities. Worldwide, targeted research should be conducted to clearly identify locally-based barriers to conservation practice adoption and identify the long-term ramifications of land-use changes on fragile soils located in semi-arid regions.

Last Modified: 05/28/2017
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