Farmers Find the Balance Between Productive Cropland & Pheasant Habitat

This fall, thousands of hunters from all over the world will be stepping into South Dakota fields to flush our famous state bird—the pheasant. It is a tradition that dates back to 1919, and one that South Dakota corn farmers support in many ways today.

Recently, the South Dakota Game Fish & Parks (SDGFP) announced their 2018 statewide pheasant brood survey, which indicated a 47 percent increase in pheasants per mile (PPM) over last year. This is a substantial increase as the state heads into its 100th pheasant season.

Make Your Farm a Pheasant Haven

There are many factors that impact pheasant numbers from year to year, including weather, predators and habitat. The overall increase in our pheasant population is a sign that South Dakota corn farmers are doing their part to nurture upland habitat for all wildlife.

“A lot of farmers feel like they have to choose between making their farms profitable by growing crops or using the land to support pheasant habitat, and it doesn’t have to be either/or. Farmers can have both,” says Jeff Zimprich, South Dakota State Conservationist.

If you’ve never before considered how to create pheasant habitat on your farm, the good news is that there are many resources available to help.

SDGFP offers free food plot brood mix for farmers to use on their operations to encourage wildlife to come and eat. SDGFP also offers a food plot program that pays $20 per acre on food plots that are 1-10 acres, including providing free corn and sorghum seed for those food plots. Food plots must remain standing through winter until April 1 of the following year, and be planted within half a mile of winter coverage to maximize wildlife accessibility during winter months. Local Pheasants Forever chapters can also provide food plot seed.

“Conservation planning assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is available to farmers for free,” says Zimprich. “NRCS staff can come out and evaluate farmers’ operations, discuss their objectives and offer suggestions on how farmers can improve pheasant habitat.”

Funding Available to Help Farmers

Of course, taking steps to create pheasant habitat can require capital, which can be difficult to come by sometimes for farmers. Zimprich says there are programs available that can provide funding.

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) provides funding to help with seeding landscape into permanent vegetation, seed for cover crops, implementing management or other grazing practices to improve pheasant habitat on working farmlands.

“We can take lands that are not idle and still use them for pheasant habitat, and raise more birds on those areas because of how they’re being managed,” Zimprich adds.

Farmers can sign up for EQIP any time during the year.

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides farmers with financial assistance to utilize a variety of different practices and enhancements on their farms.

Last year, NRCS piloted a new program called Conservation Activity Plan 132, which offered technical service providers such as agronomists and certified crop advisors to evaluate the economic impact of quarter sections of land. By reviewing the input costs and resulting yield data for that section, it helps farmers identify areas of their farm that are not as suitable for growing crops—which could perhaps be placed under an Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

Land in an ACEP is allowed to stay in a certain type of land use for a set number of years, and those lands could be used to create pheasant habitat.

Acreage evaluated through CAP 132 could end up making farmers more money as pheasant habitat than cropland, because farmers won’t be putting valuable inputs on land that just isn’t giving a profitable yield.

Enrolling eligible land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is also a way to sustain pheasant habitat while being good stewards of the land. In addition, taking care of wetlands and sloughs is important, as they provide excellent winter cover and food sources for pheasants.

By maintaining that balance of crop acres and pheasant habitat, many South Dakota corn farmers are able to welcome pheasant hunters to their properties from other areas, even creating another revenue stream for some farmers.

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