Hunting and agriculture closely tied

Article was written by Leigh Presley, Agriculture Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

My dog Barkley left for a pheasant hunting trip to South Dakota this week.

Barkley loves to run around, but when it comes to finding birds, he doesn’t quite live up to his pedigree — a fault I attribute more to my negligent training than to his breeding. At the very least, he’ll work off some extra pounds and energy dashing through the fields of corn, sorghum, and grasses that harbor the iconic ring-necked pheasants of South Dakota.

In a few weeks, I too will be heading out on a hunting trip up to my family’s land for the gun deer season. Unlike Barkley, I won’t be working off any of my extra pounds sitting sedentarily in my blind looking out over a harvested cornfield. But I will surely see some deer gleaning corn kernels that the combine left behind.

In South Dakota, Wisconsin, and throughout the nation, agriculture and hunting are closely tied. In the face of urban sprawl and development, farmland can provide open space, habitat, and food for wildlife – supporting the game hunters seek in the following ways:
Crop leftovers: Waterfowl, deer, upland birds and other small games consume grains like corn left on the ground in the field after harvest. Some farmers also forgo tilling the soil, leaving crop residue on the field, providing forage and cover for animals during the winter months.

Wildlife food plots: Though most crops are grown to be harvested, some farmers plant small plots of crops specifically meant to provide wildlife habitat and food.

Perennial and annual green cover: Alfalfa, clover, and grasses that are common forage crops for livestock in hayfields and pastures also provide wintertime forage for wildlife. Many cover crop species planted by farmers at the end of the growing season serve double duty by benefitting the soil and providing forage for wildlife over winter.

Areas between fields: Brushy and woody field edges are known to support wildlife, providing shelter and a quick escape from the relative openness of a field.

The relationship between hunters and farmers is mutually beneficial, with hunters providing a valuable service to farmers.

On a farm, too much wildlife isn’t always a good thing. Turkeys, deer, geese, cranes, and even bears can cause damage to crops. Wisconsin’s Wildlife Damage and Abatement Claims program can help farmers when this happens, by providing them with options to remove animals causing an on-farm nuisance, either during open hunting season, or during controlled hunts to alleviate damage while it’s happening. Farmers that don’t hunt often seek hunters to help them fill these tags.

For farmers, renting out hunting land can provide a supplementary income source. Sometimes payment is made in cash, other times it comes in the form of a portion of what was bagged on the land.

Hunting also has a substantial impact on the rural economy. According to the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, 10.9 million U.S. hunters are residents of metropolitan areas, and each trip out into more rural hunting areas brings money with it. According to a 2011 study, American hunters spent $33.7 billion on hunting-related expenditures, a portion of which ends up helping the rural economy.

I’m not sure if Barkley and I will have much to show after our hunting trips this year, but at least we’ll have taken part in an activity with benefits far beyond our own enjoyment.

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