Part of the Deal

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Emergency haying and grazing on conservation lands is of vital importance to producers in drought times

By Jim Inglis, Director of Governmental Affairs

You may have heard the quote, “Despite our accomplishments, we owe our very existence to 6 inches of topsoil, and the fact that it rains.”

The very building blocks of our ecosystems and our food supply are based on productive soils that grow plants, including crops. Domestic and wild animals consume those plants, and those plants and animals ultimately sustain us.

This summer, rainfall is in short supply across some of the quail range, and much of the pheasant range. A few timely rains have fallen in pockets across some of the key pheasants states recently. But much of the region sits at some level from “bothersome” to “worrisome” to downright “dangerous” dry.

We all see and feel the stress when our counties and communities are labeled as drought designation areas. In these trying times, the lands that are devoted to soil, water and wildlife conservation, become critical to help both livestock and wildlife make it until the rains return.  Unfortunately, these occurrences are likely going to increase with our ever-changing climate. 

You may already be hearing that Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands will be open for emergency haying and grazing soon. USDA’s CRP, and other conservation programs in the Farm Bill that promote establishment of grass-based practices, are part of a critical ecological and economic safety net for farmers and ranchers during emergencies such as this.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have supported these policies in conservation programs to keep agricultural lands working and productive. These policies become even more important when growing conditions are challenging, as they are now. 

In most cases these emergency utilizations of the forage happen outside the primary nesting season (also known as the brood rearing season), which allows grassland nesting birds to hatch and get the young to flight stage. Usually not more than 50 percent of the conservation programs the acreage in a county will be grazed or harvested, leaving resources for wildlife, as well as a reserve for the following year. 

Ever since Congress created the modern-day Farm Bill in 1985, CRP especially has been viewed as a resource available for grazing and haying in emergency situations. Having those provisions is part of gaining broad based support from many stakeholders and groups needed to have such programs on the landscape. 

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever as an organization needs to continue to support and expand the dollars and acres for voluntary conservation programs that promote grassland-based natural resource solutions. When times are tough, these acres must also serve to help out the producers on whose land these acres reside. It’s an essential part of the deal. These investments now will help us weather droughts and other extreme events into the future.