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The Case for Pheasants - Out of Balance

January 10, 2017 by

The single biggest impact to agriculture and wild pheasants - The Roundup Ready Corn and Soybean Rotation.

I can honestly say that I have never heard anyone say or single out the impact of Monsanto’s invention of the genetically modified organism (GMO) system of roundup ready corn and soybeans as the single biggest impact on the decline of pheasants in North America.  It could be because it would be very political or controversial.  It does not have to be that way.

We often get caught up in solving problems by instead drawing battle lines and determining who is bad and who is good.  Not sure why that is.  I have driven down the interstate reading huge expensive and expansive bill boards claiming how great farmers are and how much they do for conservation and feeding the world.

It is a waste of time trying to market or sell somebody into believing someone is something they are not.  Instead let’s agree on what the problem is and solve it.  There is a plethora of articles positioning farmers, producers, GMO’s, Monsanto and Roundup as being good or bad.  To my research and knowledge, I have read or found nothing that makes any of these subjects “bad”.  And we know for certain that much about these subjects are very good.  So let’s get beyond this normal first argument that in general, all of these subjects, in and of themselves, are “good”.

First let’s make an important definition or determination.  There is a difference between a farmer and a producer.  This is important in this discussion because not all farmers are producers.  I am in fact one of those people (a farmer and not a producer).  I do not produce a marketable agricultural crop.  A producer does.  It is also important to understand the concept that many producers create marketable agricultural commodities, like beef and corn, on expansive amounts of acreage that they may or may not own.  So bring in the landowner who may own and control acres but is not a farmer and may not produce or be a producer.  Add to that mix companies, like Monsanto, who are not producers, landowners or farmers.  And also the shareholders who, Monsanto or other agricultural companies serve, who also do not own any acres, are not farmers or producers and do not produce any agricultural products.

So let’s take the high road and give Monsanto credit for creating the incredibly successful Roundup Ready Corn and Soybean System (RRCSS).  This system has proven to be one of the most profitable and sustainable commodity crop systems ever.  So what’s the problem?  Maybe market share?  By market share I am referring to total acres available to be planted to this system.  Every year since the creation of this system in the 80’s, it has grown larger and larger.  In the wake of the $7-8/Bushel corn era of the not so recent past, we have seen a significant amount of acres converted to this system.  Millions of acres.

As most of you know, I run UGUIDE, a fair chase pheasant hunting business in South Dakota that takes in guests from all over the nation that want to experience the pheasant hunting that South Dakota has become famous for.  Prior to buying land in South Dakota in 2002, I pheasant hunted in Iowa for 20 years.  UGUIDE was built on offering pheasant hunts based on only naturally produced pheasants derived only from the habitat found on the land to be hunted.

Over the years, I have heard story after story of guests whose parents took them pheasant hunting when they were younger but now they no longer have pheasants in their state to hunt or they are stocked pheasants by their Game and Fish Department.  They don’t wish to hunt stocked pheasants.  It occurred to me that most of these guests came from states that used to have pheasants and also commodity crop agricultural production and now are primarily corn and soybean growing states.  We never used to get too many people from Iowa because they had enough pheasants to hunt.  Now I hear the same story from the new influx of guests coming from Iowa that claim “We have no pheasants any longer”.  The correlation to the $8 corn boom of recent years is too obvious to overlook.   In the early 90’s, Iowa had more pheasants than South Dakota.

Yes, the RRCSS has replaced much of the habitat that pheasants thrived in; weedy fence lines, expansive fields of small grains, and pasture grass to name a few.  Many state annual Game and Fish Dept reports show a steady decline of grassland acres and small grain crop acres such as oats, milo, and alfalfa.  In Iowa it is easy to see the impact of the conversion to the RRCSS.  Iowa is a sea of corn and soybeans. Iowa also has unprecedented water quality issues from agricultural runoff and is currently under litigation with cities opening lawsuits against upstream watersheds for pollution from excessive amounts of agricultural crop field fertilizer in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus.  One could label this condition as being “out of balance”.

One may also ask that when we are out of balance with the environment, “what else is on the decline?”.

The good news is we know what “in balance” looks like.  Wildlife biologists have suggested that a 1/3 cropland to 2/3 grassland is ideal for pheasants and a host of other wildlife to flourish.  So when wildlife declines, we must have gotten out of balance with that ratio.  Some producers are not concerned with wildlife or conservation and would never have anything to do with a federally funded conservation program, like CRP, to help mitigate and/or manage some issues they might have on the acres they are producing on.  Ironically enough of them do not have any problem taking federally funded crop insurance dollars on those same acres.  This indicates that we might need to strike a balance on how federal taxpayer conservation funding and crop insurance funding are paid out.  The balance of cheap food, clean water and more are in the mix.

Read all the articles in the Case for Pheasants Series from UGUIDE:

Posted in: News, Pheasant Outlook, Conservation, Habitat Management, The Case For Pheasants

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