There are many types of farming practices that we think about daily as agriculturalists. Examples being your standard conventional farming, no-till, organic, etc. In these practices we are all after a common goal, to produce high healthy yields for a profit. Some people have a different outlook and strategies on how to produce those yields. What if there is another type of farming out there, a type of farming that is not trying to produce high bushel crop, but instead, high yields of waterfowl and wildlife. I’m talking about a farming practice for the conservationists, for the guys that like to duck, deer, pheasant, quail, and turkey hunt. This is a farming practice that is for hunting purposes. Basically planting a crop and leaving it to the wildlife as a food source. Some might be a little confused by this strategy and think that planting a crop and maybe not even harvesting it is absurd. In someway this is true, but our vision is habitat. We are doing this to create a healthy environment not only for wildfowl, but for ourselves as well.
The main focus here is waterfowl, focusing directly towards duck hunters. The only thing we are trying to achieve is to have a good waterfowl population for our own hunting/recreational pleasure. A lot of people want an area for waterfowl to stage and relax. Some guys may or may not know how to achieve this, but most all of them do not see the small benefits this creates. “Cells” are your first plan of attack, it doesn’t matter how many or how big, that all depends on how much room you have. Lets say you have 80 acres that you want to turn into waterfowl habitat. Making a levee around your 80 acres then levee off each crop section. You want to split it up into your “cell” sections. Example being 4 sections of 20 acres or 2 sections of 40 acres, how you split it is up to you. We want to do this that way you have a crop rotation of moist soil crops and a grain crop. Most of us know that corn in the dominant plant when it comes to staging waterfowl. This is all true, but planting corn year after year starts to deplete your nutrients in your soil, and more and more fertilizer goes on for a better corn crop. What you might try is planting millet, milo, buckwheat, flax seed, natural grasses, even wheat, in three of the cells, and plant one cell with corn. What this will do is provide early season food and late season food. Early season being your grass species and your corn late season when they need that high energy from starch to migrate. As temperatures rise and drop, these different types of food provide ducks with what they need. They will fluctuate from moist soil plants early in the year to corn later in the year when temperatures begin to become cold. If you create something like this I can promise you will hold waterfowl for years to come. “If you have food and habitat, you will have ducks, if you have food, habitat, and weather, you will have a lot of ducks”-Frank Bellrose
The grass species will act as a filter for water that you pump or drain in. Cleaner water is a must for our ecosystem and yes as stewards of the land we are getting better about water quality. These grasses will act as a natural watershed, which is an adopted practice being brought up by many farmers. There is even some government funding for these practices. What the grasses will do is filter out most of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with other nutrients in the water, grass species will actually take up and use these nutrients in their own growth. With water being on your millet or Milo this will also provide habit for waterfowl. Grass species are also excellent for keeping fertile soil. Taller the plant gets the deeper roots go, when in time with crop rotation each year, you will have a healthier corn plant. Remember the more root depth you get the healthier the plant you have. The clean water that has been depleted of excess nitrogen and other nutrients can be flooded onto your corn acres. The corn cell you can do what you want with. If you want to pick it and make some yield off of it you can or leave it standing that’s your choice to make, it still provides food and habitat.
Using grasses in your cells you provide healthier soil and water quality for years to come. Management of these areas are crucial in order to get the outcome you are looking for. If you rotate crops every year with grasses and corn, you will have a much better corn crop, much more fertile soil and much better water quality, with low inputs of fertilizer, and yes a high yield in waterfowl and wildlife numbers.
by: Jason Hire
I am an Ag Science major at Western Illinois University. I love everything there is about agriculture, though I didn’t grow up on a farm I grew up hunting with my dad and grandfather. I guess this is where my love of Ag came from because I wanted to give something back to nature. The only way I could think of was learning how to grow crops better.