Farm The Best, Conserve The Rest

02:50PM Dec 12, 2019
Hunters on CRP field
Landowners rethink marginal cropland acre use.
( Darrell Smith )

Will incorporating conservation measures on your farm make economic sense? To find out, consider your production data first, recommends Iowa farmer Josh Divan.

Between 3% and 15% of every row crop field in production has areas that don’t provide a return-on-investment, Divan says. However, they could be a good fit for wildlife, pollinators, native grasses and other conservation measures.

“Surprisingly not that many people do actually put the pencil to paper to figure out what it costs for you to try to raise a crop,” says Divan, who farms near Scarville and is a precision ag and conservation specialist for Pheasants Forever Iowa. “If you’re not making money in an area that’s where you need to start thinking about alternatives,” he adds.

Conservation consideration is needed from private landowners, in particular, because they control 60% of rural lands in the U.S., notes Rebecca Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. She says that percentage is even higher in the eastern U.S.

Identify Acres

In Divan’s case, he consulted yield maps and aerial photos of his farm to pinpoint areas he could then walk and evaluate for conservation.

“You go to those red areas on the maps that you know are the unproductive, marginal acres,” he says. “For us it was a low-lying wetland area. Somebody else might have a sandy hill area or ground that gets shaded out that isn’t profitable.”

Most of the programs Pheasants Forever works with farmers on is for marginal cropland acres, Divan says.

Locate Resources

Divan recommends checking with your local Natural Resources Con­­servation Services (NRCS) office for more information. “If you can bring in a yield map that’s tremendously valuable to help start to direct the conversation, and then you can build out from there,” he says.

In Iowa, Divan says, Pheasants Forever has more than a dozen biologists who work with farmers to implement conservation measures and tap into programs. These programs can include the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Chip Flory hosts the "AgDay" series “Outdoors on the Farm,” which shares tips and ideas about managing wildlife and natural resources. Watch it at