Agriculture and Hunting: A Symbiotic Relationship
Posted by: SD Secretary of Agriculture Bill Even
My family and I have been hunting pheasants for as long as I can remember. As a lifelong South Dakotan and hunter, the fall hunting season always brings back great memories. On this year's opening weekend of pheasant season, my son and I planned to shoot a few birds after we finished building some new cattle feedlot fence. The job ran long, however, and with the ever-present possibility that a cold snap would freeze the ground and prevent us from digging the post holes, we opted to keep working and finish the fence, instead of going hunting.
As farmers, my family has always been an active partner with sportsmen. We have raised hen pheasants for release, attended Ducks Unlimited banquets, assisted Pheasants Forever with emergency winter feeding, planted acres of trees, used minimum-till and no-till planting, and helped neighbors establish native grass pasture for rotational grazing.
We are also adept at prioritizing our finite resources. Time, finances, and land need to be allocated appropriately in order to realize the greatest return on our investments. We would have liked to hunt pheasants on opening day, but the realities of the farm business had priority.
In South Dakota, agriculture and hunting have a symbiotic relationship. Agricultural land produces the crops and livestock producers depend on for their livelihoods while supporting wildlife and feeding the world. Agriculture is South Dakota's largest industry and the excellent hunting opportunities we enjoy are largely the result of our 43 million acres of productive, privately owned agricultural land.
Our abundant wildlife generates tangible economic benefits, and most farmers recognize the importance of sportsmen to our local economies. Hunters pay for lodging, buy gas and supplies, and eat in small-town cafes several weekends each year during the peak hunting season. Our productive farm and ranch land generates economic activity year-round and we are happy to add hunting and outdoor recreation to this mix.
Good, productive crops equal healthy, abundant wildlife, but pheasants and other game animals need grassland nesting grounds as well. With the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) facing changes in the coming years, some sportsmen and producers are concerned that the associated drop in grassland acres will negatively affect wildlife.
While CRP is changing, a host of exciting new opportunities have emerged. New programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) will help farmers implement sustainable environmental practices that retain wildlife habitat while allowing agricultural production and grazing. This type of "working lands" conservation offers the best of both worlds: productive agricultural land that provides wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities for sportsmen.
Production agriculture and wildlife hunting are not mutually exclusive propositions. By working together to generate the most return on our investments, we can continue to develop the symbiotic relationship that has given South Dakota a worldwide reputation as a leading agricultural producer and pheasant hunting capital.