Partnering with Farmers to Create Habitat

Part 1 of 3: Understanding the Psychology of Farming

When I was a Sophomore in high school the corn prices took a dramatic upward swing. We spent the following two years removing everything but our mailbox to plant more corn on the farm. We still have a mailbox, but there is hardly any habitat left for pheasants and deer. I have started planting trees, and we leave some corn and soybeans standing for the winter in small plots. That being said, we have a long journey ahead to create quality habitat as oftentimes I have to balance my desire for habitat with my dad’s desire for profitability. The process of creating new habitat has taught me a number of lessons about working with farmers when establishing habitat. First, understand the psychology of farming, then make the most of the non-farmable land. After that the expansion of food plots, tree-lines, and grasslands can be considered. This article is the first of a series on how to work with farmers to create more habitat in Iowa. 

Whether it’s Des Moines Water Works, or a new environmental plan, often in Iowa  farmers gets framed as the bad guy out to make money. This leads to farmers pushing back on environmentalists, or giving up on listening all together. 

In order to break this cycle non-farmers need to understand a number of things. First, farmer’s have reasons for certain practices, and these decisions are much more complex than many people realize. There are times when farmers need to remove trees to pull equipment into a field. Other times if they let the habitat grow, the weeds will become a major issue next year. My experience farming with my dad has taught me that no environmental decision is as straight-forward as it seems. Check your emotions at the door when discussing habitat restoration. Try to put yourself in the farmer’s shoes. If you didn’t hunt and taking out a fence line meant that your paycheck would go up, what would you do? 

Many farmers who would like to prove the stereotype wrong. And there are ways to allow farmers to maximize their yields while also creating more habitat. 

Which brings me to the second point. After making sure you don’t attack the farmer for practices that are beyond their control, make them part of your team. Farming is a job with new responsibilities each day, and farmers like to work on new projects. Also, they spend more time in the field more than anyone, so include them in your decision making. You may feel that you know way more about what a deer needs to survive than a farmer, but they will know more about how to make plants thrive.  Let the farmers have some control, and they will likely take pride in the outcome. Who knows, they may come up with some better ideas for next year.

I can’t blame my dad for removing habitat. If I spent my time and energy picking out the right corn and herbicides to maximize yields, and the opportunity to increase yield by planting more acres presented itself, it would seem like a no-brainer. However, I come from a different stand-point of loving to whitetail hunt, and wanting to see more deer have quality habitat. The ideas from this blog may seem elementary, but in my view the biggest mistake environmentalists make comes from lacking empathy and respect for the person with another viewpoint. The next blog on creating habitat will address how to turn non-farmable acres into better habitat.

Thanks for reading, Harrison

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