Paying it Forward

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

The federal Farm Bill has brought more than $1.5 billion in conservation funds to Missouri landowners since 1985, when the first of the modern conservation programs, the Conservation Reserve Program, began.

The conservation provisions of the Farm Bill have the potential to leave a legacy to benefit future generations of Missourians. That legacy will likely include cleaner water for drinking and recreation, sustainably managed forests, soils that are more productive and more abundant wildlife. These programs are already providing direct benefits for my children and my grandson as they enjoy the adventures of hunting, fishing and even a glass of water from the tap. Your family is benefiting, too.

Cleaner Water

While much of the state and national press focuses on the commodity price support and nutrition portions of the Farm Bill, little is said about the conservation programs and the direct impact they have on most Missourians. For instance, when we drink a glass of water, these federal programs have made it a better glass of water for us to drink, whether it comes from an underground aquifer, a river or lake. In fact, several programs are aimed specifically at watersheds above the drinking water intakes of rivers and lakes throughout Missouri. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is the most recent program focused on those watersheds and has enrolled 40,000 acres of cropland into buffers and wildlife practices in order to protect drinking water quality. The Department of Conservation and the Department of Natural Resources have provided additional funding for this program.

The Farm Bill helps Missouri agricultural producers to properly manage pesticides and nutrients to keep those pollutants from entering streams and underground aquifers. Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of the 2002 Farm Bill, more than 400,000 acres of cropland in Missouri have had nutrient and pest management practices applied to ensure that runoff into lakes and streams contains only minimal amounts of nutrients and pesticides. In 2008 alone, nutrient and pest management practices were applied to more than 220,000 acres in Missouri through all programs of the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill also provides funding for the management of livestock waste from small confinement operations on family-owned farms. Livestock waste runoff into streams has been eliminated for an estimated 20,000 head of cattle, 200,000 head of swine and 500,000 poultry.

If you use Missouri’s streams and lakes for fishing, canoeing or other recreation, these programs are helping keep that water cleaner, too. When my grandson, Kalon, caught his very first fish last summer, it was in a small river made cleaner by these and other efforts through the Farm Bill. In fact, we walked through a CRP buffer along the river to get to that fishing hole.

Reduced Soil Erosion

The programs of the Farm Bill have had a significant impact on soil erosion since the Conservation Reserve Program was first implemented in 1985. Missouri’s erosion rate has dropped more than any other state’s since 1982, when its 10.9 tons-per-acre rate was the second highest in the nation. In 2003, an average of 5.3 tons of soil eroded from each acre of Missouri’s cultivated cropland. This is the fifth highest rate in the country.

Another large credit for this hefty drop in soil erosion comes from an aggressive soil and water cost-share program operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and county soil and water conservation districts across the state. It is funded by a 1/10 of 1 percent sales tax dedicated toward soils and state parks.

Forests for the Future

No other program funds sustainable management for so many acres of our private forests. Farm Bill funding for forestry practices in Missouri is approaching $1 million per year. The promise of the Farm Bill for our forests can best be summed up by the American Forest Foundation:

“The Farm Bill will increase opportunities for America’s private forest landowners to provide economic and environmental benefits to the larger society. These provisions represent great advances on behalf of private forest landowners. Working forests are vital to our rural economies. It is in our collective interest to help ensure that family forest landowners can afford to keep their land in forest management where they choose to do so, and that millions of acres of forested land remain forested and managed to provide jobs and timber, clean water, opportunities for fishing, hunting and enjoyment of the outdoors, habitat for fish and wildlife and defense against changing and more unpredictable climate.”

My son Andrew’s first turkey was harvested in timber sustainably managed through a Farm Bill program. It was the same stand he harvested cedar logs from to build seating for the front porch. Turkeys are attracted to this forest for nighttime roosting, because the open understory allows the birds to easily fly up into the roost trees at dark.

Improving Wildlife Habitat

A prime example of a Farm Bill conservation legacy is the restoration of bobwhite quail to portions of Missouri. Just a few years ago, most Missourians thought that restoration of declining bobwhite quail populations was a lost cause. Instead, Missouri landowners today are seeing the fruits of quail habitat installed through Farm Bill programs. Reports from across the state indicate quail are responding to these habitat efforts, especially where conservation is applied over the landscape on contiguous farms.

Quail employ several techniques to foil predators and one that works particularly well—especially on me—is the flush of the covey. If you have never witnessed a covey flush, it is a sudden burst of confusion, sound and little blurs moving away from you at 55 mph in all directions! Even if you are prepared for the flush, it will startle you. It gets me every time. And it got my son Tony, too, on his first quail hunt. “I didn’t know which one to shoot at!” he shouted when no birds fell in spite of our shooting.

Few fall outdoor activities can beat watching a pointing dog do its thing. It did not matter that we did not drop a bird. Tony got to experience a dog working a field, the lockup on point and the rush of a covey flushing, and that satisfied the both of us. One day soon, he will experience the satisfaction of the harvest. He will get that experience because the federal Farm Bill is helping restore quail habitat, even the habitat on my own farm.

When it comes to my own small farm I try to practice what I preach, and the farm is where I want to share the legacy of hunting with my children. However, I had no quail on the property when I bought it in 2004. So, to help offset some of the cost of restoring quail habitat on this farm I enrolled in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of the Farm Bill. I received cost-share to convert fescue fields to native grasses and forbs, use timber stand improvement on the forested areas and edge feather the cedar-choked fence lines. The first year of the contract, we worked to convert fescue on two small fields, edge feather and work on one of the blocks of woodland. Within a year, a covey of 10 quail responded. The next year, two coveys were found. During the third year, we completed the fescue eradication on all 11 acres of open fields and had three coveys, each having 15–20 birds.

The Farm Bill provides habitat for more than just quail. Edge feathering and downed tree structures team with cardinals and a variety of other songbirds, which rely on the same habitat as quail. Monitoring of the CRP CP33 habitat practice has shown that declining songbirds such as indigo bunting and field sparrows also benefit from these native grass buffers. Quail are a poster child for almost 140 other species of wildlife that use the same habitats. The Farm Bill also has restored hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands, prairies, glades and savannas. In 2008 alone, it created other kinds of wildlife habitat on 83,132 acres in Missouri. Did you know that the surge in most duck populations since the 1980s is in large part attributed to CRP in the northern Great Plains?

Only the Farm Bill has the funding base necessary to affect landscape-scale changes, whether it be for wildlife habitat, soil erosion, water quality or sustainably managed forests. Without much fanfare, the conservation programs of the Farm Bill are working for you today and will continue to work into the future to benefit the next generations of Missourians.

Oh, and by the way, Tony did get his first bird. “I like quail hunting better than turkey and deer hunting because you get to walk around and see stuff!” he declared. Some days you just have to walk more than others.

To learn more, visit NRCS online.

Missouri Conservation Achievements of the Farm Bill: Soil, Water and Wildlife

WRP - Wetland Reserve Program

$176 million and 126,000 acres of wetland restored

CRP - Conservation Reserve Program

1.45 million acres enrolled, 27.7 million tons of soil/yr saved

GRP - Grassland Reserve Program

10,000 acres of native prairie preserved

CSP - Conservation Stewarship Program

50,000 acres of rice field re-flooding for migrating waterfowl and 15 million linear feet of wildlife field borders

EQIP - Environmental Quality Incentives Program

10,000 acres of timber stand improvement per year

WHIP - Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program

More than $2 million for restoration of degraded glades and savannas

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