Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Great Plains Research 19 (Fall 2009):225-37


Copyright by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln


Although landscape changes from anthropogenic causes occur at much faster rates than those from natural processes (e.g., geological, vegetation succession), human perception of such changes is often subjective, inaccurate, or nonexistent. Given the large-scale land-use changes that have occurred throughout the Great Plains, the potential impacts of land-use changes on ecological systems, and the insight gained from knowledge of land-use trends (e.g., to compare to wildlife population trends), we synthesized information related to land-use trends in Nebraska during 1866–2007. We discussed and interpreted known and potential causes of short- and long-term land-use trends based on agricultural and weather data; farm policies and programs; and local, state, and global events. During the study period, mean farm size steadily increased, whereas number of farms rapidly increased until about 1900, remained stable until about 1930, then rapidly decreased. Total area of cropland in Nebraska increased until the 1930s, but then showed long-term stability with large short-term fluctuations. Crop diversity was highest during 1955–1965, then slowly decreased; corn was always a dominant crop, but sorghum and oats were increasingly replaced by soybeans after the 1960s. Land-use changes were affected by farm policies and programs attempting to stabilize commodity supply and demand, reduce erosion, and reduce impacts to wildlife and ecological systems; direct and indirect effects of war (e.g., food demand, pesticides, fertilizers); technological advances (e.g., mechanization); and human population growth and redistribution. Although these causes of change will continue to affect Nebraska’s landscape, as well as that of other Great Plains states, new large-scale trends such as increasing energy demands (e.g., biofuels) may contribute to an already highly modified landscape.