The following story was written by a University of Missouri student as part of the 2012 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Learn more.
By Brendan Gibbons
Near a lazy creek in northwest Missouri, a pile of chewed red apples waits on a stump as an offering to hungry deer. The apples' bright red skin, along with the burgundy splotches of poison ivy rusting in the fall, stands out in this part of the state.
So does the camouflage-colored camera recording all who pass by.
This is not a typical farm. This is wildlife habitat, a savings account for soil and a hunter's paradise, supported by the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. The program is a component of the federal Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, also known as the Farm Bill.
The bill expired on Sept. 30 due to political fighting, taking the CRP along with it and leaving uncertainty about farm conservation programs in its wake.
The Farm Bill is a complex piece of policy covering a broad range of issues, including energy, agriculture, nutrition and the environment. Private land conservation was the first of these to come to a standstill.
The CRP began in the 1950s to protect erodible farm soils. Today, the federal government pays landowners per acre to convert agricultural land into suitable wildlife habitat. The amount they receive depends on their soil's productivity and the cash-rent rate for land in their area.
Vance Vanderwerken, the landowner who installed the camera, said he has about 100 acres enrolled in the program. Vanderwerken is an elementary school principal in Savannah, Mo., and has saved most of his life to be able to buy his land.
"This is a great farm to have for recreation," he said, standing outside of the home he built on the property.
Vance Vanderwerken, Missouri landowner who has about 100 acres enrolled in the program.
Photo: Amy Bruer
Vanderwerken's taste in home décor can be summed up in four words: wood, metal, leather and taxidermy. He hunts deer and quail on his property.
"I'm an outdoorsman," Vanderwerken said. "Right now, I feel like this is the best thing I could do for this farm."