One of the great frustrations of my life’s work is the divide between conservation and agriculture. Growing up hunting on farms across northern Indiana, I came to look at these working properties as magical places. To this day, nothing compares to sitting watch over a picked cornfield on a frosty November morning waiting on a buck. If not for the farmers who let me hunt their land, my life would have likely taken a much different course. Now I’m determined to help close the gap between agriculture and conservation. To find paths forward that benefit those working in agriculture and those outside of the industry who care about the health of land, water and air.
First of all, farming has changed a lot in my 40 years. Most of the small acreage farms I grew up hunting are gone. The few remaining will likely only last as long as the current elderly owners remain alive. Technology and precision equipment has made farming more efficient, but also more expensive. Overhead costs today are far greater than what it took to run a couple of tractors on a 160-acres of row crops or raise a small herd of cattle just 20 years ago.
Agriculture is big business, so no one can blame a farmer for trying to maximize his yield by using his or her land to produce the most income possible. But like all industries, agriculture is evolving. Some long standing practices are beginning to face questions and new methods of production, which include restoration of native grasses and less application of chemicals, are beginning to take hold. This provides opportunities for agriculture and conservation to work together.
I’m very pleased to report on a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Safari Club International (SCI), Ducks Unlimited (DU), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), and the Public Lands Council (PLC). This agreement outlines the shared commitment of these organizations to the conservation of natural resources through sustainable multiple use.
Most farmers, hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts all want healthier ecosystems and more robust wildlife populations. They also want a strong agriculture economy. Drive around any small town square in the Heartland, and you will see enough boarded up buildings to make your heart sink. A robust agriculture economy can breathe life back into rural communities.
"As sportsmen and cattle producers both know, land that is used, is land that is loved," said SCI CEO W. Laird Hamberlin. "We are committed to prioritizing partnerships that help deliver results for conservation and cementing that with the signing of this MOU. SCI and its members look forward to working together in the future to ensure sportsmen, cattle producers and the American public can enjoy these lands for generations to come."
This MOU represents a great example of how agriculture and conservation sitting at the same table, working to develop programs and partnerships, results in projects that move us towards a better future on a healthier landscape.
"DU members and ranching families alike know protecting wildlife habitat and working lands go hand in hand," said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam. "The signing of this agreement solidifies the strong bond between sportsmen and ranchers. America's farmers and ranchers both feed the world and host a wide range of wildlife on their working lands, and have done so for generations. Together, we are ensuring our natural resources and our food security are provided for."
I have not met too many farmers, none really, who do not care about the land, especially their land. Do they push back on regulations? Yes, often because some of those regulations do cause consternation, and if you were in the farmer’s shoes, you’d likely call it over reach too. Now that being said, we have a giant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from a century’s worth of fertilizers and other chemicals running off into our waterways, and we have seem monumental losses of critical wildlife habitat over the last few decades, especially the elimination of prairie which serves as natures sponge. There’s a reason we have 100 year floods every couple of years. That’s why there has to be a better way moving forward.
"One thing cattle producers and the sportsmen communities have in common is a shared commitment to being good stewards of the land. Combining efforts under this memorandum, will boost conservation efforts and management of wildlife habitat," said NCBA President Marty Smith. "We want to thank everyone who has made this partnership possible."
Land is critical, but so is water. We all live downstream. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that what we may consider too far-fetched to be possible today, could happen overnight. If we lose access clean drinking water, even in a small region of the country, the effects would be immense.
"This MOU is a great step in putting the hard work from long-standing partnerships on paper," said PLC President Bob Skinner. "Ranchers are true conservationists, and I am proud to partner with groups whose members also work to protect open spaces and manage our country's natural resources for a better future."
Agriculture and conservation working together for healthier ecosystems and wildlife populations is a must. It’s great to see organizations like between Safari Club International, Ducks Unlimited, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the Public Lands Council coming together and setting a great example. I hope partnerships like this become part of the new normal.
See you down the trail…
For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed.