Put unprofitable acres to use for wildlife

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NEW MADRID, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says conservation practices can reduce farming costs on non-profitable acres while offering habitat to wildlife and preventing erosion.  Tim Kavan, MDC private land conservationist, said advancements in conservation technology, paired with conservation programs through MDC, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can lead farmers to improved profit margins.

“Conservation programs can improve your bottom line economically and they have consistently proven that they improve soil, water and air quality and wildlife habitat,” Kavan said. “Conservation and crop production can and should co-exist.”

He said while installing conservation practices on a farm is not necessarily intended as a way to increase profit, it can prevent losses.  Technological advancements have rapidly improved farming in the past two decades.  Soil and crop sensors, 4G cellular networks, smartphone applications, navigation guided steering and grain off-loading have all made farming more efficient, but it has also made it more expensive, Kavan said.  A recent article in the “Corn+Soybean Digest” showed that in Iowa, anywhere between 3% and 15% of most fields are consistently not profitable.

“Some of these areas can be addressed through improved management or physical changes, such as drainage,” he said. “But others can’t, such as drought prone pivot corners or wet waterways.”

Conservation programs typically focus on reducing soil erosion, enhancing water supplies, improving water quality, increasing wildlife habitat, and reducing damages caused by floods and other natural disasters. Kavan said in many cases, payment and incentive rates for these programs are at, or close enough to at least cover, acreage rent rates to landlords.

There are several programs managed through MDC, USDA and NRCS to help farmers refocus non-profitable acres and decrease losses. Examples of USDA programs include the Conservation Reserve Program, which promotes managing grasslands for Bobwhite quail, and MDC's Missouri Outdoor Recreational Access Program to increase outdoor recreational opportunities on private land. Landowners may also go online to mdc.mo.gov/property and request a Country Land Care Packet. Each packet includes booklets with information to help farmers and landowners improve their land for wildlife, fishing, grazing and timber.

MDC’s Private Land Conservationists are available to offer technical assistance to landowners and their habitat management needs. Visit the MDC website at mdc.mo.gov and locate a local private land conservationist under the Local Contact section.