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Bulldozers push out wildlife for more corn

by Patrick Durkin 22. June 2012 08:50
Patrick Durkin

If you drive through farm country these days, you’ll often see bulldozers pushing old farmsteads, fencerows and windbreaks into monstrous burn piles to expand high-priced cornfields for feeding cattle and brewing ethanol.
All those miles of former brush, oaks, box elder, tall grass, dark granite and crumbling limestone once served as valuable shelterbelts. Besides protecting farm fields from wind and water erosion, they also provided habitat for deer, rabbits, songbirds, pheasants and other wildlife.

Bulldozers pushed several hundred yards of shelterbelts into numerous burn-piles on this southern Wisconsin farm.

Since the Dust Bowl, agricultural agencies and conservationists encouraged and applauded farmers who built and maintained shelterbelts, viewing them as long-term investments in the land. But conservation apparently can’t compete with corn that’s worth nearly $6 per bushel today and consistently more than $4 per bushel the past five years after averaging $2.50 from 1973 through 2005.

This widespread conversion of year-round habitat to seasonal one-crop monocultures is happening from Ohio and Indiana to eastern Washington. And it’s not just shelterbelts and abandoned farmsteads. In the Dakotas, folks are burning off cattail marshes, and tiling the black muck below to expand corn and soybean fields. How many miles of shelterbelts have been lost? Well, no government agency tracks acreage kept as fencerows, windbreaks or vacant farmsteads. But the federal government’s Conservation Reserve Program provides an indicator. Wisconsin alone will lose 45,170 acres of CRP land this year, presumably to beans and corn.

Fencerows and other shelterbelts that provide year-round habitat for ringneck pheasants and other wildlife are being lost as farmers expand fields to grow more profitable corn and soybeans.

But the Badger State is only 15th in lost CRP acres. North Dakota will lose nearly 650,000 acres of CRP lands this year, worst in the nation. Montana is second with 435,000 lost acres, and then it’s Minnesota, 190,000 and South Dakota with 170,000.
In fact, Pheasants Forever estimates the Northern Plains will lose more than 1 million CRP acres in the program’s 2012 re-enrollment process. CRP is perhaps the most powerful conservation tool in U.S. history. Under CRP the past 25-plus years, the government paid farmers and ranchers to plant trees and grasses instead of crops along waterways and highly erodible areas to protect the land and prevent soils and nutrients from washing into rivers and streams.

Diane Peterson photo, Pheasants Forever: A hunter takes aim at a ringneck pheasant flushed from a brushy ditch.

Although payments for CRP lands were competitive with crop prices from the late 1980s through the mid-2000s, they’ve lagged with recent leaps in grain prices. What’s behind high grain prices? Some blame federal subsidies for ethanol production, while others cite rising global demands for cattle feed, including China, India and South America.
Scott Walter, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ upland game ecologist, tracks the state’s CRP acreage for the DNR. He said 51 percent of the country’s 2011 corn crop went to ethanol production, the first time in history that more corn went for fuel than food.

“That demand drives up not only corn prices, but food prices,” Walter said. “That puts more pressure on the land, it destroys more wildlife habitat, and it gives people fewer places to hunt. If your goal is to create more hunting opportunities, the challenge worsens for each acre lost to crop production.”

Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever, said lost ditches, shelterbelts and old farmsteads have huge impacts on small game, upland birds and other wildlife.
“I’ve lived in Northern Plains states my entire life, and I’ve never seen pressure on the landscape like we have now,” Nomsen said. “It’s one thing to convert old grass into corn, but when you’re pulling out rocks, trees, wetlands and old farmyard foundations, and testing and capping wells on abandoned farmsteads, you’re investing significant time, effort and money into something that might not pay off for very long.”

Roger Hill photo, Pheasants Forever: The more shelterbelts lost to grain production, the fewer places for deer, pheasants, rabbits and other wildlife to live and hide.

Even so, Nomsen said it’s difficult to fault individuals who cash in on today’s high crop prices. “It’s a complex question and decision,” he said. “High land values are part of it, too. It’s tough for a landowner to stand pat with a $75 to $100 break on CRP acres when he can get two to three times that much by renting his fields to someone planting beans and corn.”
Nomsen and Walter also wonder what will happen if grain prices fall to where CRP rates are again competitive.

“Who’s going to put back those long strips of old trees, big rocks and old fencerows?” Walter asked.

For that matter, who’s going to replace the fertile topsoil that blows or drains away the next few years in the absence of shelterbelts?

Keeping Tabs on the Harvest

by Neal McCullough 23. September 2010 07:39
Neal McCullough

With opening weekend behind us; we spent the weekend watching mosquitos and corn/corn and more corn!  The biggest challenge of early season bowhunting is contending with crops.  We had limited interactions with deer over the weekend and we believe that many of our hit list deer were in the corn; and we may have to wait until harvest to hit our best spots in the timber.

One of toughest things an early season bowhunter contends with is a sea of unharvested corn.

One of the best sources of information on the harvest I use during the early season is a free website through National Agricultural Statistics Service through the USDA.  This website updates weekly the current status of crops (Corn, Beans, etc.) as well as weather, fieldwork and other information.  This is a great source of information for those who can’t make it to their farms every week to find out how the harvest is going.  The website and the Minnesota report/forecast are below:

Check it out @:

Minnesota Forecast:

 “The first reports of corn and soybean harvest have arrived, though wet

conditions continue to delay fieldwork, according to the USDA, NASS,

Minnesota Field Office.  As of September 19, corn was 1 percent

harvested, compared to 0 percent last year and 2 percent for the five-

year average. Corn silage harvest advanced to 83 percent, compared to 36

percent last year and 64 percent average.  Soybeans were 3 percent

harvested, compared to 1 percent last year and 4 percent average.  Other

harvest progress included potatoes at 50 percent, sweet corn at 92

percent, dry beans at 52 percent, and sugarbeets at 13 percent harvested,

all ahead of their respective averages.  A few producers reported that

wet conditions prevented the harvest of mature crops.

Temperatures for the week were unseasonably cool.  The statewide average

temperature was 3.5 degrees below normal, with some areas reporting a low

of 30 degrees.  Precipitation remains above normal for most reporting

stations.  Thunderstorms, along with some hail, lightning, and high

winds, prevailed Thursday.  Weekly precipitation was greatest in the

Central region with 1.3 inches above normal.  Statewide topsoil moisture

supplies were rated 59 percent adequate and 40 percent surplus, the

highest surplus rating so far this year.  Statewide 3.2 days were rated

suitable for fieldwork.

Crop Progress Table – September 19, 2010     

               Stage of                This   Last   Last    5 Yr

 Crop          Development             Week   Week   Year    Avg

                                                Percent      ___

Corn           Dent                      98     94     73     92

Corn           Mature                    49     28      4     37

Corn           Harvested                  1      0      0      2

Corn Silage    Harvested                 83     64     36     64

Soybeans       Turning Yellow            95     79     82     91

Soybeans       Shedding Leaves           68     37     44     63

Soybeans       Mature                    25      6      9     25

Soybeans       Harvested                  3     NA      1      4

Potatoes       Harvested                 50     34     35     47

Sweet Corn     Harvested                 92     83     82     88

Dry Beans      Dropping Leaves           93     75     NA     NA

Dry Beans      Harvested                 52     27     23     41

Sugarbeets     Harvested                 13      9      7      7


Do you have your own property, and plan your own crops.  Check out the full line of seed/supplements, keep up to date on the latest tricks/tips, and find the finest bowhunting gear here at

See you in the woods,



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