Wildlife Enhancement and Education as a Catalyst in the Widespread Implementation of Sustainable Agriculture Practices (Also listed as AS95-18)

1995 Annual Report for LS95-065

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $98,205.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $202,904.00
ACE Funds: $75,000.00
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Pete Bromley
North Carolina State University

Wildlife Enhancement and Education as a Catalyst in the Widespread Implementation of Sustainable Agriculture Practices (Also listed as AS95-18)


This project explored the feasibility of incorporating critically needed wildlife habitat on a landscape scale, with water quality benefits, into production agriculture in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. A team composed of producers, landowners, natural resource agency professionals, wildlife enthusiasts, and university-based researchers was assembled. This Farm Wildlife Recovery Team established four sets of experimental farm units in three agronomic regions in eastern North Carolina and central Virginia.

Each set included two farms with field borders of early-successional vegetation at the edge of every tilled field, and two farms where predators were removed. Utilizing a 2x2 factorial model, we established one control farm that had neither habitat enhancement nor predator management, one farm with both treatments, one farm with habitat enhancement, and the remaining farm with predator management. Each farm unit was 300 to 500 acres in size, allowing researchers to analyze landscape scale responses by wildlife to treatments. We measured water quality on two additional farms in the coastal plain of North Carolina. We used mailed surveys to estimate economic benefits of increasing wild quail populations. A combination of traditional weigh wagon technology and high tech precision farming systems was used to estimate opportunity costs of establishing field border systems. Insects were sampled with sweep nets, pitfall traps, and sticky traps. Crop damage by insects was assessed by direct observation of fruits. Wildlife was censused by flushing birds on transect lines in the winter, counting singing males in springtime, searching for nests, and listening for quail coveys to call at dawn in the fall. The project funds were supplemented greatly by companion contracts and grants to assess water quality, impacts of predation on farm wildlife populations, and Integrated Pest Management implications. One consequence of the multiple funding sources for the project was that some of the scientific measurements (water quality, insects) were still being analyzed at the time of this final report, and for the predation aspect, the work is slated to go on for an additional two years. The Farm Wildlife Recovery Team will continue to carry on the work established through this project way beyond the 1998 completion date.

What have we learned? Will wildlife enhancement and education be a catalyst for the widespread implementation of sustainable agricultural practices? The strong interest in bobwhite quail and other farm wildlife made assembling the Farm Wildlife Recovery Team a pleasure. Many more landowners and producers volunteered their land for inclusion into the landscape-scale experiment than could be incorporated. Also positive was the eagerness of the Natural Resource Conservation Service to incorporate the field border systems we worked on as a model for receiving incentive payments for soil and water conservation practices under the 1996 Farm Bill. Quail, sparrows in the winter time, and field sparrows in the summer were significantly more abundant on farms with field border systems, while predator management has yet to have a demonstrated influence on farmland bird populations. Some species of birds did not appear to respond to field border systems. There are two more years to go on the predator management work, so this is a tentative and preliminary observation. Although the water quality data is currently undergoing final statistical analysis, it appears that field borders established on mineral soils that are not dominated by sand layers may result in a reduction of nitrates leaving the field in ground water.

Field borders established on organic (black) soils did not influence ground water quality. We learned that field borders apparently do not reduce yields of grain crops in adjacent fields, and, further, that edges of fields often produced at below or near breakeven levels of profitability.

Preliminary results of our IPM insect work indicate that field borders may harbor beneficial insect populations that could actually protect cotton crops from pest infestations and increase yields. The Weed Sweep technology we developed and tested promises to save producers 50% over traditional bushhogging or mowing of field edges. Our economic assessment of the value of $63 per covey found by quail hunters suggests that landowners could pay for field border establishment and maintenance by a combination of recreational income and government incentive programs for water quality.

Our educational outreach programs have reached national, regional, statewide and local audiences numbering well over 1 million people. Awareness, however, is a far cry from implementation of practices that will result in desired wildlife increases on farms. Our qualitative assessment of landowner and land manager attitudes indicated that many influential people prefer the "clean farm". These folks are not aware that the sharp borders between woods and fields and other trademarks of conventional agriculture may be reasons why farm wildlife, including the quail they enjoyed in years past, declined. Rather than develop a simplified computer decision aid and publication package to encourage landowners and managers to adopt field borders, we have reconsidered our public outreach efforts. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service will produce a video in 1999 introducing the many interesting things this project is doing, with the objective being to get the landowner to ask a natural resource professional for assistance in integrating wildlife into production agriculture.

Extension publications presenting our findings will be prepared over the next two years, when our field data from all the years has been assessed. Natural resource professionals in North Carolina will be provided specialized training opportunities, these video tapes and publications and, of course, they will be made members of the Farm Wildlife Recovery Team, just as all cooperating landowners. Far from a one-shot effort that dies when the funding is spent, this project has developed into a sustaining program. The challenge of reversing the decline of desirable wildlife on our farms will continue, but we are moving in constructive ways to bring research information and concerned people together to reverse the declines.

December 1998.