Since 2006, some 275 square miles of natural land in the Upper Mississippi watershed has been converted to row-crop agriculture, according to a new University of Minnesota analysis — much of it sandy soils and forests where no one ever expected to see farming.—Star Tribune
Millions of acres of prairie in the Dakotas have been plowed up since 2006, but did you know that a sensitive region in northern Minnesota is also being converted to irrigated row-cropland?
An hour or more northwest of Brainerd, Minnesota, (not far from where our family used to take a summer family vacation every year when we lived in Nebraska), is a pristine region with lakes, forest, and sandy soil, that everyone assumed would always stay that way.
“No one saw this coming,” said state hydrologist Darrin Hoverson.
The wild-life rich region is being deforested to grow row crops. Potatoes, corn, and soybeans are being rotated on this land. A shallow aquifer in the area, which sits under a very porous surface, is being depleted and contaminated with nitrogen. Other waterways are also being polluted.
Thousands of new acres of commercial forest land is in the process of being sold and converted to cropland. This new cropland requires pivot irrigation since the region is fairly dry, and irrigation permits are overwhelming the local Department of Natural Resources. Irrigation applications statewide in Minnesota have gone up ten-fold in the past two years.
Government state water and resource departments, which never anticipated this, are concerned, and are at a loss of how to respond to the situation.
To learn more: Minnesota struggles to slow deforestation, protect water By Josephine Marcotty for the Star Tribune