Can Habitat Make Your Farm More Profitable?

Can Habitat Make Your Farm Extra Worthwhile?


By Brad Woodson

We all know habitat can shield your soil. Can it make your farm extra worthwhile? PFI’s habitat viability supervisor, Brad Woodson, has been utilizing precision conservation evaluation knowledge to show marginal acres into agricultural alternatives on his farm in Madison County, Iowa. On this three-part weblog sequence, Brad shares how he used conservation evaluation knowledge to search out low-yield areas on his farm and the way he enrolled these acres in conservation packages. Look ahead to the subsequent two weblog posts within the coming weeks!


As a landowner in Madison County, Iowa, I really like the rolling topography. Crop fields are interspersed with pastures and woodlands with creek corridors connecting all these habitats collectively. There are a whole lot of irregular formed fields and it seems, a whole lot of variability in crop yields.

Yield contour graph representing corn yield in 2022 on a farm in Madison County, Iowa.

Corn yield in 2022 on Brad’s farm in Madison County, Iowa.

I didn’t have entry to yield maps on our farm till three years in the past. Once I did, I used to be instantly struck by the crimson areas on the map. The crimson represents the bottom yielding areas of the sector. I assumed all a part of the sector could be worthwhile or breakeven however that’s merely not true. Why would a farmer proceed to farm these unprofitable areas?

To attempt to reply that query, we have to take a step again in time. Through the years, by means of numerous Farm Payments, the USDA has incentivized sustaining crop acres and backed row crops by means of insurance coverage and different funds. This has taken a lot of the danger out of farming marginal land.

These and different elements led to “fence row to fence row” farming that has continued for many years. With the expertise obtainable to farmers at this time, it’s exhausting to assist farming unprofitable acres, particularly when there are extra worthwhile alternate options.

A fast evaluation of the yield map led me to take a position that corn and beans weren’t a worthwhile crop in sure areas of the sector. I started to ask the farmer questions on the reason for the poor yield; was it poor soil, deer harm or another agronomic issue? After three years of yield knowledge, it was clear that the identical areas proceed to underperform. It turned apparent to me that one thing needed to be finished, after which, I found one thing may very well be finished.

I started working for Sensible Farmers of Iowa (PFI) in January of 2023 as a habitat viability supervisor. A lot of my background is in habitat restoration and organic surveys however I’ve not too long ago develop into concerned in farm administration as nicely. Working at PFI to assist farmers and landowners create habitat and develop into extra worthwhile is thrilling and satisfying. It’s a good win-win scenario.

PFI is partnering with Pheasants Eternally on a Conservation Innovation Grant with the NRCS. Pheasants Eternally makes use of expertise and knowledge, aptly referred to as precision conservation, to investigate subject profitability. I met with Stephanie Nelson, a precision ag and conservation specialist with Pheasants Eternally, to investigate a farm the place I had considerations about persistent low yields and profitability. It is usually a farm the place I wished to develop extra habitat.

Soil map with low CSR2 areas shaded in red and yellow.Soil map with low CSR2 areas shaded in red and yellow.

Soil map with low CSR2 areas shaded in crimson and yellow.

Stephanie begins her evaluation through the use of the oldest and most available knowledge, which is soil maps. In Iowa, all soil sorts have been given a CSR2 score, which is a crop productiveness index instantly correlated with corn yield; CSR2 stands for corn suitability score.

Utilizing geographic info programs, (GIS) she is ready to overlay a number of layers of knowledge together with satellite tv for pc infrared maps referred to as Normalized Distinction Vegetation Index (NDVI), topographic maps and lidar (gentle detection and ranging) maps.

This sounds technical, and it’s, however these maps present info as to why sure areas of a subject could also be underperforming or should be taken out of manufacturing. The following step is to match these maps with the precise yield maps. The precision conservation methodology clearly identifies the areas that constantly underperform.

The following step was to determine which areas to take out of manufacturing. I met with Stephanie and her Pheasants Eternally colleague, Nick Thompson, to debate obtainable conservation packages in addition to their funds and contract lengths. After evaluating the monetary incentives and my very own determination evaluation, I selected to take 46 acres out of manufacturing and signal these acres up in two completely different conservation packages.

Areas to be removed from productionAreas to be removed from production

Remaining plan of areas to be taken out of manufacturing.

Roughly 10 acres will probably be enrolled within the Iowa Early Successional Quail SAFE Program. This can be a kind of CRP which is run by means of the Farm Service Company. The remaining 36 acres had been enrolled within the Iowa Local weather Sensible Switchgrass Cropping System Transition. This program is run by means of FDC Enterprises, Inc. and funded by means of NRCS. This program is a part of the Iowa Regional Conservation Partnership Program initiatives chosen for 2023.

This was not a simple determination. Partially 2 of this weblog, I’ll present the monetary evaluation I went by means of to find out that habitat might be extra worthwhile than row crops. Partially 3 of this weblog, I’ll clarify my determination evaluation that made me comfy and assured on this change.

I’d love to listen to from you. What’s stopping you from taking unproductive areas out of crop manufacturing? Do you want assist figuring out these areas? Are the monetary incentives too low in comparison with money rental charges? Are you anxious about doing the work to plant and preserve a pollinator plot? Are you anxious about weeds or the look of habitat in a rigorously managed agricultural panorama?

Ship me an e-mail brad.woodson(at)practicalfarmers(dot)org and let me know what you consider the questions above.

To be taught extra about placing knowledge to be just right for you, contact Pheasants Eternally’s precision ag and conservation specialists: Stephanie Nelson at (712) 266-3977 for help in Iowa or BJ Werk at (701) 238-6504 for help in Minnesota.





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