Pheasants Forever partners with ag group on new conservation program
Practical Farmers of Iowa and Pheasants Forever has worked together on some small scale projects, but this will be the first large scale cooperative effort. USDA announced on Nov. 8 that the Minnesota-Iowa program was one of 18 new projects receiving part of $25 million under the Conservation Innovation Grants On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials program.
AMES, Iowa — Josh Divan of Pheasants Forever is looking for "red acres" in Minnesota and Iowa.
"If you ever look at a yield map, red is not the color you ever want to see," notes Divan, the state coordinator in Iowa for the Pheasants Forever conservation group.
But it is those red acres that Pheasants Forever is targeting for a new precision conservation program in Iowa and Minnesota. It was just awarded funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Conservation Resource Service.
Pheasants is partnering on the program with the Practical Farmers of Iowa, a group with about 5,200 members in Iowa and surrounding states, according to Jorgen Rose, habitat and policy coordinator for the group.
The program's goals include:
- Working with 80 producers (who do not have to be members of the Practical Farmers group).
- Analyzing 25,000 acres of land in Iowa and Minnesota.
- Identifying more than 3,000 acres where a precision conservation plan on unprofitable land would be beneficial to wildlife habitat and to the farmer.
"Existing programs do not provide assistance for the time-consuming process of using precision conservation to identify opportunity acres in the first place," Pheasants Forever said as part of its grant application to the NRCS. The USDA announced on Nov. 8 that the Minnesota-Iowa program was one of 18 new projects receiving part of $25 million under the Conservation Innovation Grants On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials program . It's a $1 million project with about three-quarters of that being federally funded.
Minnesota-based Pheasants Forever has a growing number of staff with the skills to use agronomic data to identify conservation opportunities, Divan said.
One unique aspect of the program is that the incentive payments to take unprofitable acres out of crop production aren't based on the number of "red" acres removed. Instead, the payments are based on improving the average yield in the acres of that field that remain in production. Taking marginal land out of production will improve that average yield.
That approach is done, in part, to avoid "stacking" program benefits on the same set of acres, Divan said.
That will allow the use of programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Pheasants Forever’s Soil Health and Habitat Program, or through new private funding, on those unprofitable areas.
The program is set to run for five years, with Rose saying that first year will likely involve adding staff and pinning down some details and logistics of the program.
Rose said the Practical Farmers of Iowa and Pheasants Forever has worked together on some small scale projects, this will be the first large scale cooperative effort. He said the two groups complement each other, with Pheasants Forever being a popular group known for their conservation expertise, and the Practical Farmers providing a good base of conservation-minded farmers for the program, but it is open to all farmers in Iowa and Minnesota.
"There will be a lot of outreach and events to find those people and get them interested," Rose said.
Rose said the idea of precision ag is usually only applied to getting the most out of the land, not analyzing which acres maybe shouldn't be farmed but could provide a benefit in some other way.
Divan said Practical Farmers of Iowa "has long history of farmer-led research."
"Farmers definitely look to their peers first," Divan said.