An anonymous reader shares an NPR report: Soil has been blowing away from the Great Plains ever since farmers first plowed up the prairie. It reached crisis levels during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when windblown soil turned day into night. In recent years, dust storms have returned, driven mainly by drought. But Shook — and others — say farmers are making the problem worse by taking land where grass used to grow and plowing it up, exposing vulnerable soil. This is where federal policy enters the picture. Most of that grassland was there in the first place because of a taxpayer-funded program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rents land from farmers across the country and pays them to grow grass, trees and wildflowers in order to protect the soil and also provide habitat for wildlife. It’s called the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. Ten years ago, there was more land in the CRP than in the entire state of New York. In North Dakota, CRP land covered 5,000 square miles. But CRP agreements only last 10 years, and when farming got more profitable about a decade ago, farmers in North Dakota pulled more than half of that land out of the CRP to grow crops like corn and soybeans. Across the country, farmers decided not to re-enroll 15.8 million acres of farmland in the CRP when those contracts expired between 2007 and 2014.
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