Productive soils, good rainfall, the potential for irrigation, high land prices, and high rental rates are only a few of the reasons that it is often difficult for wildlife professionals to work on privately owned land within row crop dominated landscapes. With that being said, there are many producers throughout Nebraska that enjoy wildlife, but find it hard to implement management practices that benefit wildlife along with their operation. Currently there is a tremendous amount of research that focuses on cover crops and their associated soil health benefits, erosion control, forage potential and more. More recently research has begun to look at the potential wildlife benefits associated with cover crops when they are present on the landscape and utilized within crop rotations.
In 2019 Nebraska Pheasants Forever began working within a 9-county coverage area on the eastern edge of the Rainwater Basins with a goal of exploring the uses of cover crops and identifying landscape needs and wildlife benefits. Over the course of three years, we have worked with row crop producers to implement over 5,000 acres of cover crops and through that we have identified the need for added brood rearing cover and winter habitat within the coverage area. With our landscape needs identified we created cover crop options to tackle the identified problems and made them available to producers. The two options include a cover crop planting post small grain harvest and a full season cover crop option. If specific stipulations are met, producers are eligible for cost-share and foregone income payments.
Here in Nebraska, we are most excited about the full season cover crop option that is available to producers within the coverage area. This option not only has the potential to benefit all types of wildlife, but the producers soil health and overall operation. To qualify for this specific option producers must have row crop acres within a 2-mile buffer of existing quality perennial habitat (CRP, Wetland, WMA, etc.). If a producer meets the criteria and agrees to plant a diverse cover crop mixture prior to June 1st, and leave the biomass standing until the following March 15th, they are eligible for cost share on the seed mixture and a $300 per acre foregone income payment (40 Acres Maximum). In the 2021 growing season we secured 87 acres of full season cover crops on private row crop acres.
Enrolling acres into the full season cover crop option wasn’t enough. We needed ways to determine if we were getting the wildlife benefits that we anticipated. To help, we implemented a variety of monitoring techniques including camera trapping. For this specific practice we installed two trail cameras per site, one on the interior of the cover crop, and one on the edge of the cover crop. These cameras will remain in use throughout the life of the contract. To date we have photos of a variety of wildlife utilizing these plots including pheasants and quail. Many of the sites have also recorded pheasant and quail brood activity, which is exciting as this practice was put in place to enhance the areas brood rearing habitat. As harvest rolls on and winter approaches, we look forward to learning how these sites will benefit wildlife until March 15th, 2022.

Author: Nathan Pflueger
Nathan Pflueger is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys utilizing his educational background within wildlife management and agronomy to work with row crop producers to make a difference for area wildlife.
Nathan is the Precision Ag Coordinator in Nebraska overseeing the counties of Butler, Clay, Fillmore, Hamilton, Merrick, Polk, Saline, Seward, and York.
Check out the Conservation Success Story on Cover Crops.