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Winter - A Time to Plan
For farmers, winter is the time to evaluate the previous year's results and plan for the coming year. Part of that planning should include strategies to deal with pieces of land that are not making the farmer money.
Technology today allows producers to look closely at which areas give the best yields, which need extra fertilizer, and which spots just won't produce decent yields no matter what.
Jim Prusa loads a Pheasants Forever no-till drill with a wildlife habitat seed mix on his farm near Howells.
No-Till Drills Available
Pheasants Forever has 44 no-till grass drills at sites throughout Nebraska available to landowners to use in planting habitat on their land. These specialized pieces of equipment are important because they are necessary to properly plant the diverse seed mixtures that provide the best wildlife habitat. These drills are not machines that many farmers would normally have.
In many cases, the no-till drills were obtained by Pheasants Forever through grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund or the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. These drills are available for planting wildlife habitat at very nominal fees, typically just $5 to $10 per acre, depending on the size of the drill. Information on renting drills is available at www.NebraskaPF.com or by calling Pheasants Forever at (308) 754-5339.
Nearly all landowners have a few of these spots that they'd rather not farm - low areas that are often wet, oddly shaped pockets inaccessible to larger equipment, pivot corners that won't produce without supplemental water or even turn rows where the plants get run over by machinery. When a producer looks at profits, these areas certainly don't add up like the rest of the field. They may even lose money by farming them.
Fortunately, several programs of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other organizations can pay a healthy return on these acres while allowing them to be planted in a wildlife-friendly way. This allows the producer to continue to farm those areas that are profitable while avoiding the areas that return little if anything above input costs.
Jim Blackburn, a landowner in Antelope County, has several pivot corners enrolled in Pheasant Forever's Corners for Wildlife program. He enrolled in the program because the corners were very marginal production areas, and tenants were planting rye in them to keep them from blowing away. "With this program I can create habitat for wildlife and reduce wind erosion," he said.
In agriculture today, it's vital to make every acre count, but that does not necessarily mean planting a crop on every acre. Nearly every field has some ground that could be more profitable if it were enrolled in a conservation program, providing guaranteed income without investing fuel, fertilizer and labor year after year.
When you sit down to review the books and consider what to plant next spring, think about those small areas that are always giving you fits. In many cases USDA programs pay more money than those areas generate most years.
The returns from these conservation programs reach far beyond the pocketbook as well. Most Nebraskans remember days spent hunting with family or friends, waiting for a bird to burst out. The value of a day spent enjoying nature can't be counted on any spreadsheet. Those days draw us closer to the land and help us understand that we are only borrowing it for a while; it's what we hand down to future generations that will determine how successful we were.