A Dealership Perspective on Precision Conservation

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Sustainability, innovative crop management, and the value of partnering with PF & QF

By Chaz Holt, Precision Agriculture and Conservation Specialist

John Deere, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever share an interest in precision agriculture. Recently, partnerships have taken on a new depth of connectivity.
 
The focus has been to ensure that not only are croplands productive, but that those areas with low return on investment are used for a different purpose. When a Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever biologist or agronomist completes yield analyses for farmers these days, areas that are consistently not profitable to the farm business are identified.

More times than not, the farmers inherently know where these areas are located within their operation. However, yield analysis maps help quantify the situation field by field, providing an opportunity to improve the farm’s bottom line while simultaneously improving habitat for gamebirds.

Typically, when we think about upland conservation, we are thinking about land taken out of production and returned to native and unproductive spaces on the landscape. In some cases this is true; however, the majority of potential habitat in the United States are on active working lands.
 

Fabric of Life

Farms and ranches are the driving force for our rural American economy and culture. Farm families have strong ties to the land and wildlife. Over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, stories are told of how much folks enjoy seeing pheasants fly from field to field, or quail run across their roads and farm lanes, and hearing these gamebirds’ signature crows and whistles every spring.

Producers talk about the effect that winter weather has on survival of their birds. They talk about what nesting conditions have been like that year, and whether they have seen young chicks following brooding hens yet. Wandering conversations often uncover a sincere, underlying interest in promoting numbers of pheasants, quail and other wildlife on their land.

This is the basis for implementing wildlife-friendly plantings on the economically unproductive cropland. 

To keep up with the fast pace changes of our landscape today and to address modern issues with modern solutions, partners in conservation are now bridging across traditional boundaries and into mainstream industry. Food and clothing brands and retailers, NGOs, and even farm machinery manufacturers and dealerships are devoting their time and money to promote and save our upland habitat ecosystems. 
 
Partnerships for working lands conservation across the nation have taken-off. One company, the John Deere Corporation, is leading the agriculture industry in demonstrating synergies with precision agriculture adoption, increasing sustainable crop management, and providing innovative profit solutions as well as opportunities for natural resources and wildlife conservation.
 
This is the story of two local dealerships in dramatically different landscapes. One is in Georgia and one in Montana. Lasseter Tractor Company in Moultrie, GA and FrontLine Ag Solutions in Conrad, MT have taken on upland conservation as part of their customer satisfaction and solutions offering.
 

Leadership in Georgia

The Lasseter Tractor Company, a seven-location company across Georgia, is the first-of-its-kind collaboration in the United States. The new agreement sets the stage for Lasseter Integrated Solutions staff, Quail Forever precision ag specialists and other current partners to use John Deere Operations Center precision technology.

Dusty Engel is the Corporate Integrated Solutions Manager for Lasseter Tractor Co.  Utilizing precision agriculture technology, Dusty and the QF Precision Ag team will help define areas where conservation practices and alternative working lands opportunities are more profitable for producers than traditional row crops. This collaboration is helping diversify farm income and provide cotton production sustainability benefits over the long-term with a focus on quality quail habitat. “It seems pretty advantageous to be able to turn that into habitat instead of just letting it sit idle or lose money,” says Engel.

“We’re a firm believer in helping customers utilize their agricultural data to make informed financial decisions on the farm,” adds Judd Lasseter, CEO for Lasseter Tractor Company. “As part of this process, conservation solutions are found in certain parts of fields to help drive profitability. And if we can help add quail coveys and other environmental benefits to the farm while boosting bottom line profits, what an incredible storyline for producers to share.”

Innovation in Montana

Ken and Pat Wheeler are part of Frontline Ag Solutions, a group of Deere dealerships in western Montana. Pat is a grain producer, primarily involved with wheat and barley production. Like many of their neighbors and Montana colleagues, they are expanding into pulse crops.  The focus of their farming operation is in the Conrad and Valier area, and the ground is quite productive.

For good reason, the area between Conrad, Havre and Great Falls is renowned for small grain production and is known as the Golden Triangle. Upland birds such as ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge and sharp-tailed grouse abound where there is good habitat. But like in much of the Great Plains, intensive agriculture and the dramatic reduction in federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage have resulted in bird numbers not being what they used to be.
 
About five years ago, a large amount of the Wheelers’ land had CRP contracts set to expire. Left with little options, they started farming it again, but recognized some areas were not very productive. This is where Pat first started considering conservation as a possible solution to being more profitable as well as building additional income opportunities for their family enterprise.

Dealerships have a unique position in the effort to establish more habitat on working farmland.  Consulting with growers and landowners takes a fair amount of trust and respect.  Frontline Ag Solutions usually has established such trust and respect from their customers over the years, and they have a strong desire to maintain customer satisfaction with the products they represent.

According to Pat, the use of precision ag data is one of the most underutilized tools many farmers have, even with the unique opportunities provided by Deere equipment itself, and the associated cloud computing opportunities. Precision ag and precision conservation go hand-in-hand with better utilization of data from Deere equipment.
 
“There is so much potential for providing this kind of support with our customers at Frontline Ag who are using 21st Century data collection,” says Wheeler. Pat was the first to work with Pheasants Forever’s precision ag pilot project in Montana, which is being led by Rick Sojda from Montana State University.  Sojda analyzed the Wheeler’s crop yield data in the John Deere Operations Center to find the most troublesome spots in individual crop fields. Pheasants Forever biologist Erin Fairbanks then assembled alternative cost share options through USDA conservation plans.
 
“I like seeing the pheasants out there, it’s a part of my life and it’s what I enjoyed growing up here,” Wheeler says. “Even better, these days having land that has pheasants and bird habitat makes the land value go up and you could even generate a little extra income offering hunts out there.”
 
Wheeler goes on to say, “It’s just good for everything as far as I can tell. My customers are happy having more pheasants, hard to farm ground has a better use with native grass, my customers’ equipment is being used to its fullest potential, and our land and water is improved."
 

Conclusion

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever has been paving the way to remain relevant and all-inclusive for our national mission and everyone has a place to help whether you are a landowner, upland sportsman, farmer, rural business owner, or simply a wildlife enthusiast.
 
Leadership such as Lasseter Tractor and Frontline Ag are demonstrating their passion for our agriculture families and communities to continue to enjoy our upland heritage. Join us in our mission!