Pollinator plots put unproductive acres to work

Last year, as part of a larger col­laborative, MFA assisted in applying for special funding through USDA to install field border pollinator plantings. This funding is from a program within the Natural Re­sources Conservation Service called the Regional Conservation Partner­ship Program (RCPP). The funding pool is provided with the intention of attracting diverse applicants with priorities that can be regionally specific.

The ability to engage multiple partners is critical when applying and retaining as much federal fund­ing for good conservation projects in our trade territory as possible. We certainly believe we have the case to be able to best utilize these funds in Missouri. For the project discussed here, MFA’s partners in­clude Missouri Department of Con­servation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Corn, Missouri Soybean, Bayer, Missouri Rural Water Association, Quail For­ever, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Associated Electric Cooperative Incorporated, The Fertilizer Institute and Missouri River Bird Observatory.

The amount of data we can col­lect off an acre of row-crop produc­tion in 2022 is nearly endless—soil, tillage, weather, imagery, applica­tions, yield, etc. All this informa­tion blends in to help identify the unique production of each acre. This data means nothing if it’s not used within the operation. It can also be used to decipher where the profit comes from within the field. When looking at it holistically, the data begins to make sense. Tak­ing acres out of production is an emotional decision, and it can be a tough conversation to have with family or a landowner. However, it’s important to look at the farm as a business and make informed decisions.

With all the data accrued, we can make extremely accurate pollinator seedings that remove acres where we’re losing money and/or time within the operation. What would it mean to eliminate the parts of the field that only yield 20-bushel soybeans or those areas where we spend 10 minutes of each pass turning and backing to grab an extra half acre? Removing some small areas can have a big impact on pollinators, wildlife and “farma­bility” of a particular piece of land.

In a rural landscape that contains monoculture crops or pastures, flowering plants can become a limiting factor for pollinator foraging. The first step to creating good pollinator habitat is to include native species. When making these additions, it’s critical to make sure that the blooms can be used by the species of bees, butterflies and oth­er pollinators that live here. Many exotic ornamental species create blooms that are inaccessible to native bees or don’t make nectar or pollen in quantities to be useful.

Once we have a diverse selection of native flowering plants estab­lished, it will attract all kinds of na­tive pollinators and insects. Native plants and insects are also shelter and food for all wildlife, including animals that many of us look to as game species. Plus, the plots can add tremendous aesthetic value to rural property.

I personally believe these prac­tices and small areas of pollinator habitat should exist on nearly every farm across our state. And our dedicated RCPP pool of funding can help. The first step in acquiring these funds is to visit online at precisionagconservation.com. This is our partner website that was created to collect inquiries. At this site, enter some basic information about your farm. Someone from MFA will reach out to put together farm data and help make sure we are looking at the right acres. With plan in hand, an application into USDA will be prioritized for fund­ing within certain counties. operating divisions and get updated on highlights from their respective regions.

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