When folks think of the “goals of research”, most will say the goals are to improve the human condition or contribute to the general scientific knowledge base. Investigation into Agriculture may not be in their Top 10. A recent report released by the USDA entitled, “2010 National Resources Inventory” (2010 NRI) is the latest large body of research and data collection published by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS). The goal of this publication is to “provide updated information on the status, condition, and trends of land, soil, water, and related resources on the Nation’s non-Federal lands. Non-Federal lands include privately owned lands, tribal and trust lands, and lands controlled by State and local governments.” The NCRS is mandated to collect this information, and the Inventory reports are “used to formulate effective public policies, to fashion agricultural and natural resources legislation, to develop State and national conservation programs, to allocate USDA financial and technical assistance in addressing natural resource concerns, and to enhance public understanding of natural resources and environmental issues”.
The NRI survey program has evolved over the years, from using thousands of USDA staff and contractors to the use of remote sensing and high-resolution imagery. Units of land are mapped and scored, without consideration for traditional or political boundaries. In addition to current conditions and data, historical records are analyzed to provide contextual information on trends. The report highlights these areas as notable:
- Land dedicated for cultivated fruits, nuts and flowers increased from 124,800 in 2007 to 273,800 in 2010;
- Cropland acreage increased by about 2 million acres from 2007 to 2010 after a steady decline over the previous 25 years;
- Acres in pastureland increased by 847,000 acres;
- Developed land increased two percent from 111.1 to 113.3 million acres;
- Palustrine wetlands, such as swamps or marshes, and estuarine wetlands, such as a river flowing into the ocean, saw a small increase from 1997 to 2010;
- Cropland erosion rates remained stable despite a growth in agricultural land use and more extreme weather events, such as drought and floods.
What does this mean for the Compliance process? Reports like these could be useful in generating research ideas regarding wildlife studies, including ones that investigate animal stress, habitat, migratory patterns, human-animal interaction, or tracking. In addition, plant researchers could make use of this report to study how croplands and pastureland change over time.