- Agronomic: corn, sorghum (milo), soybeans
- Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
- Production Systems: agroecosystems
Increased concerns regarding the long-term sustainability of production systems have resulted from investigation and documentation of real and potential adverse environmental consequences associated with conventional, large-scale, highly specialized, chemical and capital-intensive farming systems. Changing public expectations, expressed through regulatory action, consumer pressure, and evolving priorities of legislation and government programs provide incentive to develop production systems that satisfy world demands for food and fiber while maintaining ecological function and integrity of agroecosystems. These priorities are illustrated in successively increasing conservation provisions of the 1985, 1990, 1996, and 2002 Food Security Acts (Farm Bill). Specific programmatic examples include the creation of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and elevation of wildlife habitat to co-equal status with soil erosion, water quality, and commodity control in the new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
Practices encouraged under the United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) National Conservation Buffer Initiative, such as field borders, filter strips, and riparian buffers, meet many of the objectives of sustainable agriculture. While primarily removing marginal land from production, these practices have been demonstrated to control erosion (Dillaha et al. 1989), maintain the quality of surface and ground water through sediment, nutrient, and herbicide retention (Daniels and William 1996; Webster and Shaw 1996), and enhance wildlife habitat (Gillespie et al. 1995; Puckett et al. 1995). Noncrop vegetated strips integrated within a cropping system can also assist in controlling pest insects by providing suitable habitat for beneficial predatory insects (Sotherton 1995; Funderburk and Higley 1994).
Despite direct financial compensation (both cost-share and incentive payments) for enrollment, the Buffer Initiative has not gained widespread participation and the goal of 2 million miles (up to 7 million acres) of conservation buffers by the year 2002 was not met. USDA-NRCS has identified the need for evaluation of benefits associated with conservation buffer practices and perceived obstacles to producer adoption. Numerous conservation buffer practices are encouraged through cost-shares and incentives under several different USDA programs (CRP, WRP, WHIP, EQIP). However, practices most likely to be implemented are those that accrue the greatest environmental benefits while minimally impacting production. In order to guide the development of incentives, cost-shares, regulations and policies, information is needed on both the environmental effects (improved water quality, wildlife habitat, etc.) of these conservation buffers and the value of resulting environmental services to the community. Adoption of conservation practices by farmers is often determined by the level of knowledge the farmer has regarding environmental benefits, costs in terms of crop loss, and availability and enrollment procedures of conservation programs promoting the practices (Lant et al. 1995, Traore et al. 1998). Conservation buffer practices will only be implemented if constraints on producer participation such as concerns regarding lost opportunity and propagation of weeds and insects are identified and addressed and if producers are informed about the costs and benefits of field border practices.
Bromley (1998), in an unrelated, but similar SSARE funded project, demonstrated that field borders with their associated environmental benefits could be successfully integrated with wildlife management for grassland bird species in production systems in Virginia and North Carolina. Replication of this project in other production systems and locations and on a larger spatial scale is needed to determine regional applicability of results.
Non-crop plant communities adjacent to agricultural crops may be perceived by farmers as unacceptable because they may contain host plant species for pest arthropods and may serve as a seed source for agronomic weeds. Sustainable weed and pest management requires an integrated systems approach for providing economically and environmentally sound management practices for reducing weed and pest damage to crops. Biological monitoring of pest and beneficial organism density and distribution in relation to crop stage and condition are crucial to integrated pest management (IPM). However, knowledge requirements and sampling costs are often prohibitive (Bird et al. 1990; Fleischer et al. 1997). Information on weed density, species composition, and distribution is also critical to inform and monitor weed management strategies (Johnson et al. 1997).
Finally, acceptance of border management practices will depend on their impact on farm profitability and on public support. The extent to which field borders influence profit levels will depend on changes in input usage and yield output with and without field borders. In addition, estimates of the value that society places on environmental quality improvements gained via use of filter strips is necessary to provide information to policy makers for designing incentive programs. Goals of this project were to: 1) build upon work by Bromley (1998) by evaluating ecological and economic field border effects on producers and communities in rowcrop production systems in Mississippi, 2) provide producers, resource conservationists and policy makers with information and training to move farming toward sustainability.
Specific objectives were to:
1.) Assess opportunity costs of participation in field border management programs by yield mapping fields in relation to crop type, proximity to edge, buffer establishment and landscape context (adjacent plant community type).
2.) Quantify spatial distribution of weed species in relation to field border management, crop type, proximity to edge, and landscape context.
3.) Assess effects of field border management practices on wildlife habitat quality using diversity and abundance of ground nesting grassland bird species, population performance parameters of radio-marked northern bobwhite, and foraging efficiency of human-imprinted bobwhite chicks.