Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever of Nebraska presents the third Conservation Success Story: Pathway for Wildlife-Precision Ag.
Unproductive acres are always a dread for landowners. Every penny counts, and if its not producing, what can be done to change that? In addition to yield production, where did all the wildlife go? “With precision ag, we work with producers to find unproductive acres and enroll them into a program that pays. In the end, the landowner raises their average yield and the perennial program benefits soil health and a winter cover and food source for wildlife,” says Nathan Pflueger, Pheasants Forever Precision Ag Coordinator, York, NE. Two birds one stone.
The Pathway For Wildlife Precision Ag Conservation program is a pilot program developed for a predominately corn and bean landscape around the York area. The program offers incentives to plan a diverse crop cover to benefit soil health along with wildlife and pollinators. A landowner of Seward County, Preston Hawley, first approached Pflueger in 2019 when the program launched. Hawley was working to plant seed corn and pivot corners that were going to left unplanted. He was originally planning to plant a mono-culture of sorghum sudan for cattle forage. Instead, with the assistance of cost-share incentives with Pheasants Forever, the isolation areas were diversified to benefit wildlife and his cattle. “Pheasants Forever programs had the diversity of grasses and different things that I wanted to plant for my cows,” stated Hawley when asked what drew him to the program.
While working with landowners to utilize under-producing acreages, a conservation program benefits more than the wildlife. “By enrolling you will be receiving an annual incentive of some sort for that perennial cover and not have all the seed and fertilizer inputs you would associate with farming,” states Pflueger. The flexibility of the Pathway for Wildlife Precision Ag Conservation program attracts landowners for its ease of enrollment and cost-share. Not to mention the success stories stemming from the program, especially in its second year.
“The paperwork took less than five minutes. The biggest discussion we had was what type of program to get in and what would fit best with what I was trying to accomplish. Also, what would work best with Pheasants Forever and what they were trying to accomplish with their wildlife.” Hawley explains that his field happened to be right next to two different wetland areas and with the mixture chosen for his project, it allowed him along with Pheasants Forever to draw some pheasants and other wildlife back into the area. Pflueger remarked that when he visited the property he would always flush a rooster and saw plenty of pollinators capitalizing on the habitat as well.
Hawley, upon enrolling in the program, was searching for a way to increase his soil health at the same time as producing quality hay for his cattle. When asked about the success of the program, Hawley remarked, “The program worked really well! Last year was a challenging summer of trying to get hay put up anywhere, but we made it through the challenges. I was able to take two different cuttings off the property. By the time the year was over, we took 296 bales, weighing 1350 pounds a piece off of 30 acres. That’s just under six and three quarters ton an acre. So I was real happy with that.” The first cutting came in at 13% protein value and feed value in the mid-eighties with the second cutting at 8% and 65.
As for his main goal of soil health, Pflueger noted many more worms present in samples taken from the soil. Previously, the land had been used hard, that was before Hawley was able to manage it. Due to the diversity of the plants and their root system planted, the ground was able to be loosened and mixed additional earth biology necessary to soil health. Hawley notes that his operation prefers no till, and they were able to go right into planting this spring due to the previous year’s efforts in the program.
As for Pheasants Forever’s goal of increasing wildlife, Pflueger mentioned being very excited as nearly every visit for monitoring he noted wildlife moving in and out of the property. Prior to the first cutting, Pflueger noted a wide array of pollinators taking advantage of the annual flowering species in the crop. In addition, roosters and hens were a common sighting with a hen found nesting in the forage crop. Other wildlife seen navigating the property included raccoons, a diversity of songbirds, and small mammals like rodents. Pflueger notes that the forage crop was not the only draw of habitat in the area, being that the property was surrounded by wetland habitat, but quantifying data for wildlife through wildlife research for the next few years has become a focus of his work. Research such as bumblebee and butterfly surveys, small mammal trapping with the Nebraska Master Naturalist Program, and time lapse camera footage will help provide insight to the impacts of Pathway Precision Ag Conservation on wildlife.
Pflueger shared that Hawley reached out to other landowners on the benefits of the program; in turn those landowners have enrolled for the 2020 year. Hawley said, “As the winter goes on and the different things you are involved with you always talk to those people. Being in the cattle industry everyone wants to know what is a good, cheap way of grazing and growing feed. The cost share of this program is one of the big benefits, but moreso the tonnage per acre. So when I got to visiting with people, that’s just what I would tell them. Pheasants Forever has really come along with a nice program that will cater to you, you get to decide what gets planted, when and how much, you get what you want out of it, and it is not expensive to be involved with. I tell guys that, they like what they heard, and would always ask for a phone number on who they could visit with about it.”
“I definitely would recommend working with Pheasants Forever on a program like this,” Hawley concludes. “At Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever of Nebraska, we want to work with producers to turn their unproductive acres into a benefit for them, financially and through soil health, and the wildlife with cover crop and a food source during the winter. It is a win-win for everyone”, states Pflueger.
Pathways for Wildlife- Precision Ag Conservation is funded through a grant with the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and is in partnership with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Reach out to Nathan Pflueger, Precision Ag Coordinator of Nebraska, to learn more about soil health and cover crop programs today by visiting www.nebraskapf.com/contact.
To check out previous releases in the Conservation Success Story series visit:
Working Lands for Wildlife: https://nebraskapf.com/conservation-success-stories/
Open Fields & Waters: https://nebraskapf.com/conservation-success-stories-open-fields-waters/
If you have your own success story you would like to have featured, email Outreach & Communication Coordinator, Holly Green, at firstname.lastname@example.org.