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The Case for Pheasants - Conservation Farming

April 12, 2017 by

I like to think these articles have divine inspiration as I am just not that smart but feel compelled to write this content.

The problem:  Externalization of costs in agriculture.  In words, the damage caused by activities and applications of materials on agricultural farmland that creates problems and cleanup costs when it moves off property or offsite.  Another definition is referred to as non-point source pollution.  Meaning: It's pollution for sure, but cannot be traced back to any one point of origin (individual) like point sources of pollution such as a single drain pipe, factory smokestacks or other factory type outlets.

The solution:  Use the same non-point sources to cleanup the issues.  Activities on agricultural land.

The advent of modern agricultural practices have certainly had their positive impact on food production in America.  And more recently even fuel production in the form of ethanol and bio-diesel. Unfortunately, agriculture can no longer wash their hands of the issues that arise from the environmental impacts of this modernization.  Nobody denies that the high nitrate levels found in many watershed waterbodies originated from farm field applications across the corn belt.  However, as long as the source cannot be traced back to its origin (non-point), no one is to blame.

As is the case of clean water or the cost of cleaning up polluted water to make it clean, for example, Agriculture has no ownership or responsibility in the matter. Thus, by default, Agriculture as an industry has taken the position that clean water is a commodity that comes at a cost to the consumer.  But American citizen not only wants cheap food, they want clean cheap, safe drinking water.  They go hand in hand.

The list of environmental issues from modern agricultural practices is extensive.  Some examples are the most recent addition to the endangered species list is one species of a native bee.  Pollinators and honey bee issues are showing up in the news more and more. The list goes on.

If you ask agricultural producers (Farmers) if they are conservation minded the collective whole would claim, "Yes".  If you ask Conservationists "who is to blame for wildlife and environmental issues?" they would say "Agricultural Producers".

Enter the "Conservation Farmer".  The definition is one who makes their lively hood and spends majority of their time managing agricultural acres for the purposes of conservation benefits such as clean water and wildlife benefits.

This idea occurred to me since a person that owns land which is enrolled in CRP is consider to be a full time farmer on those acres as far as income tax law is concerned. After managing my own land for both production crops and wildlife habitat for 15+ years it has proven to be a full time job for sure. More an more I am finding myself using many of the great modern agricultural practices to "optimize" my acres.   I call it precision conservation. We use tractors with autosteer, GPS field mapping, spraying herbicides, fertilizing, managed haying and grazing, planting and growing a great many species of plants, controlling weeds, etc.  

We do have production grain crop acres which I let the neighbor farm those since so much of my time is tied up manageing the rest of the farm which I consider to be conservation acres.  The acres are in CRP, fallow ground, sloughs, wetlands, treebelts and other types of cover found in farmland.  Sources of income are from rent from the neighbor on the cropland, funds from the federal government for CRP rent, and funds from agri-tourism in the form of tourist hunters that spend time enjoying the benefits of how the conservation acres are managed on our farm.

Farmers that manage land for livestock, crops and agri-tourism can do very well.

As long as producers and landowners enjoy the non-point source protection they will not have to assume responsibility for off-land or downstream issues.  Accepting this fact we need to realize that the way to create the needed changes on the landscape is to financially incentivize those that have control over the acres.  We need to create the pie in the market called "conservation".  Every landowner needs to manage a piece of the pie on their land for conservation to solve these problems.  Not everyone will do this, however, no matter how big a carrot is dangled.  This implies another actor may need to do more on their acres to compensate for the one that will not accept that every landowner needs to practice a % of conservation on the land they own and manage.  A key actor that has a major hand in these probelems of modern agriculture is the "non-land-owning producer".  A farmer growing crops that rents ground from an absentee landowner.

Pheasants Forever has pioneered the aspect of "grassroots" conservation.  It's model does that very well and that is very necessary.  Where this model does not work is at the other end of the spectrum. That is, land that is impacted by the large scale agricultural producer for profit.  

Conclusion - There is untold value in clean water, clean air, and all non-game and game wildlife.  We have seen reductions in these from modern agriculture.  A solution is to create a competitive space in the market for conservation via the conservation farmer (producer). This  can also have upside grain price benefits by providing a management vehicle to control supply/demand in the market benfiting both grain and livestock producers.

The state has a website called "Habitat Pays".  It can.  But agricultural producers largely are not interested in habitat.  And, habitat is largely seen as being outside the world of production agriculture. Conservation, on the other hand, spans ALL of the acres of the land. Conservation pays.  It does.  It needs to.  Because we know that lack of conservation costs.

Read all the articles in The Case For Pheasants series

Posted in: UGUIDE News, Conservation, Habitat Management, The Case For Pheasants Series, South Dakota Pheasant Outlook

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