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Serving: IN

Filter strips, field borders pay well as conservation practices

Tom J. Bechman Jared Chew speaking at field day as Mike Starkey watches behind him
FIELD BORDERS HELP: Jared Chew, district conservationist in Hendricks County, Ind., tells farmers that field borders like this one on the farm of Mike Starkey (behind Chew) make both environmental and economic sense.
Consider these practices to help reduce sediment and nutrient loss.

Suppose a half-mile-long field has woods along one side. Past studies by Indiana Prairie Farmer and others indicate that due to competition from trees and shade, you’re likely to harvest half the normal yield on that first pass. If wildlife come out to feast on your corn, which is likely, you may harvest even less.

Suppose the rest of the field averages 220 bushels per acre. That first pass of 12 rows only makes 110 bushels per acre. At $4.50 per bushel, your gross is $495. If you count land cost, machinery ownership and the variable costs of fertilizer, pesticide and seed, as Purdue University’s Michael Langemeier recommends when making a budget, you’re likely losing money. And you haven’t even figured in labor costs, which he also recommends.

Jerod Chew has a solution for you. “Consider enrolling that strip in the field border program,” says the district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Hendricks County, Ind. “You’re no longer investing inputs that you may not recover in crop income, and you can earn a rental payment for the land in the field border.”

Study your opportunities

Three years ago, Mike Starkey, Brownsburg, Ind., enrolled the edges of several of his fields in the field border program. His motives were slightly different. He farms in a rapidly urbanizing area, and he wanted to have a buffer between the end of the field and heavy traffic on many roads.

The farmer establishes a cover on the land devoted to field borders. Now in his third year, Starkey’s field border strips are starting to support beneficial vegetation for wildlife.

He also has several miles of filter strips along creeks and streams. The purpose of those strips is obvious: to prevent sediment and nutrients from running into the stream or ditch. The days of the ’50s and ’60s when farmers tended to farm right up to the edge of the road or creek simply don’t make sense today, Starkey says. It’s more important to keep soil on the fields, and to allow nutrients to settle out so they don’t contribute to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico or other problems downstream.

Soon after Starkey enrolled in the field border program, cost-share for the practice was curtailed for a while, Chew says. “That’s because the national cap for acres in the Conservation Reserve Program was reached,” he explains. “Now Congress has raised the cap, and sign-up for the practice is being encouraged again.”

You may have to wait until after the beginning of the government’s new fiscal year. Otherwise, you can sign up anytime, he says. Sign-up is through the local Farm Service Agency office. NRCS handles technical aspects of helping a farmer determine how best to seed either a filter strip or field border. Sign-up for a practice in the continuous Conservation Reserve Program is not competitive like sign-up for placing land in the regular CRP. If your land is eligible, it will be accepted.

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