Since 2009, over 33 million acres of grasslands were plowed to make way for crop production across the US and Canadian portions of the Great Plains. At times, this rate of habitat destruction has rivaled deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Because over 94 million acres of the NGP are privately owned and managed, mostly by ranching families, ranching operations provide one of the best lines of defense against grassland loss. Sustainably managed grazing systems are often beneficial to wildlife species, providing a variety of plant communities and habitat structure throughout the year.
Grasslands evolved to be grazed. The feeding activities of herbivores provide patches of vegetation across the landscape which wildlife utilizes, breaks dry ground allowing water to be absorbed into the soil, and returns nutrients and organic matter to the soil through manure. Without an abundance of grazing animals to manage plant growth, grasslands become threatened by the spread of invasive plants and can trend towards monocultures of more aggressive and non-native plant species. Intact grasslands not only conserve biodiversity, but ensure cleaner streams, and more carbon stored in the soil. Sustainable beef production also provides many social benefits by supporting rural communities that can provide consumers with ecologically conscious and nutrient dense food options.
Livestock producers in the NGP face many natural and economic challenges. Climate change, which has resulted in increased periods of sustained drought and other extreme weather events, causes many financial challenges for ranching families. Livestock producers also face limited options on where to sell their beef, as the meat packing industry becomes more consolidated. In addition, US agricultural policies, additional market pressures, and new technologies that incentivize grassland plow-up for cropland, have led to accelerated grassland loss and conversion.