Many of us are hunters, anglers or birders. Others among us hike, ski or paddle through the wild spaces wedged between the farms we service. We care about the farms. We also care about the wild spaces — the habitat sustaining the diverse wildlife populations that bless our communities.
When it comes to a healthy wildlife habitat, part of the calculation is simple. As farmers increase their productivity on existing croplands, it becomes more likely that poor-performing lands can be reclaimed into viable wildlife habitat. In some cases, large expanses of marginal farmlands have been fully restored to natural conditions. As our yields per acre increase, we also reduce demand for new farmland, thereby protecting wildlife habitat that might otherwise be cultivated.
Farmers who consistently increase their production per acre can know they are working in ways that ultimately protect wildlife — in their own community or elsewhere. In some respects, farmers chasing yields allow others to chase pheasants.
There is another layer, of course, and it gets to the complexity of systems. The nutrients used in agricultural production — including nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and sulfur — are essential to the yield increases that help protect habitat. But when used inefficiently, these nutrients can harm wildlife. Excess phosphorous can cause eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems, with algae blooms that shut off oxygen to the trout, bass and pike we pursue. Compacted soils from anhydrous ammonia application slow development of the worms, grubs and insects that sustain migratory birds. Over-application of nitrogen can lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, adding to the climate stress already affecting habitats and wildlife everywhere.
With our focus on nutrient efficiency, we reduce the likelihood of wasted nutrients. Our focus on soil life leads to a process where a healthy and diverse community of soil microbes cycles the applied nutrients into the soil web food chain. This keeps the nutrients in the soil and, ultimately, in the plants and food. It also keeps those nutrients out of the air and water.
For us, everything we do starts with soil health. And, it turns out, that’s the case with most living things in the wild. When the soil is healthy, when their food chain thrives from bottom to top, they tend to thrive as well.