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Scott Rall: Pheasants Forever and farmers: Finding common ground

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

When you live in southwest Minnesota it is easy to tell that agriculture is the dominant industry.  This is the case and has been the case for more than 100 years.

Today’s agriculture is far different than it was 50 years ago.  Back in the day, most every farmer planted several different crops in a rotation that included small grains, corn, beans and in many cases some acres of alfalfa. Most farmers five decades ago also had a few head of cows or pigs, and chickens for fresh eggs were a staple.

The landscape today is an almost 100 percent rotation of just corn and beans. This change, along with the advent of roundup ready crops, have changed the way wildlife interacts with the industry of farming.  Gone are the days of small uneven parcels that were just left to grow grass and sunflowers.

In the very competitive industry called farming, each producer now needs to maximize the profit on every acre. Not doing so can be the difference between making a profit and not.

Removing fence lines added a few extra rows of crop to the same footprint. Tiling the wet spots made those acres profitable, when in the past all they did was drown out and grow weeds to compete with next year’s crop.

Combines now measure yield on the fly and each operator can tell what acres make them money and on which one they break even on or even lose a few bucks. Fertilizer can now be applied at a variable rate -- more in the areas that need it and less on the spots that don’t. Precision farming is the methodology of the day.

Pheasants Forever, the habitat organization, knows these facts as well. For years PF has offered producers individual help for their operations by having an agricultural professional from the Natural Resource Conservation Service at their national events every year.  

This allowed farmers to ask questions related directly to their acres. Pheasants Forever’s motto has always been “farm the best and conserve the rest”.

This year Pheasants Forever’s national event is being held in Sioux Falls, S.D., and they are expanding their assistance to farmers and ranchers with a Precision Agriculture Workshop.

This is an expansion of the land owner help desk of years past.  It will be held Friday, Feb. 16, from 1-3 p.m. at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. Registration is only $35.00 and is limited to the first 200 producers to sign up.

The sign-up includes a one-year membership to Pheasants Forever, a chance to win a Henry Golden Boy .22 Farmers Edition rifle and an admittance ticket to the show floor.  The agenda is specifically designed for farmers, precision specialists, agronomists and ag lenders.  Continuing education credit is even available for certified crop advisors.

It is hosted by Betsy Jibben.  She is the host of two nationally syndicated shows, AgDay and the U.S. Farm Report. There will be presentations from the president of South Dakota State University, Barry Dunn and the C.E.O. of Pheasants Forever, Howard Vincent.

The objective is to help producers maximize profits by employing conservation programs available through the United States Department of Agriculture on those acres that have habitually lost money. Taking production acres that precision ag programs can identify as unprofitable and converting them to paying acres under a farm program will result in greater profits for the operator and increased wildlife populations for them and their families as well. In some cases, the answer does not involve a farm program but just a change in which crop is planted; i.e. small grains, etc.

In the past there was always a mean game of tug-of- war between conservation efforts and farm operation profits.  This no longer needs to be the case.  By partnering with ag professionals and producers they can actually benefit both their bottom lines and their own  conservation goals and those of the NRCS, USDA and Pheasants Forever.

The Precision Ag Workshop is only one of the many reasons to attend the 2018 National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic in Sioux Falls South Dakota the weekend of February 16-19 2018. The showroom floor will have more than 500 booths displaying everything from the newest guns to the fanciest dog breeds to ever chase upland birds.  

I can spend an entire day just petting puppies and talking to breeders about their dog passions.  

Clothing of every kind related to hunting is also there. You can learn to cook wild game, train a dog, trap predators or even how to start your very own pollinator plot to benefit honey bees and monarch butterflies.

The Pheasant Fest started in 2003 and has been held in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Madison Wis., Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb.  This year the pheasant capital of the world, South Dakota, got the call to host in Sioux Falls.

It will never get closer to our area than this year. Expectations are very high for a great event with more than 25,000 attendees coming through the door over the three-day weekend.

If you are an outdoor person you will have a great time.  If you are an ag producer you might just find something that can help you make more money at the Precision Ag Workshop.

You can register for the workshop at pheasantsforever.org/precision. It has a little something for everyone.  Mark you save the date calendars today.

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