A new program will allow irrigation farmers to plant the corners around a system to grass for quail and pheasant habitat and receive payments for the land.
For decades, Kansas center pivot irrigators have planted a variety of crops on the dry land corners of irrigated quarter sections. A new program in Kansas will give producers a new option for payment and provide more acres for pheasants and quail.
Pheasants Forever has initiated a new “Corners for Wildlife” program in Kansas that will transform corners on irrigated fields into new habitat for pheasant and quail by planting grass on irrigated circle corners. Producers will receive payment for acres put in the program. Farmers get financial benefit out of the program and the birds benefit, too.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Christiansen said.
The program has been tried out successfully in Nebraska so Pheasants Forever decided to put it to the test in Kansas.
“This is the first time we’ve ever tried it in Kansas,” said Jacob Christiansen, private land conservationist for Pheasants Forever.
For information on the program, contact Christiansen at 620-549-3480 or Brittany Smith, coordinating wildlife biologist and wetland specialist at 785-462-3368 or bsmith@pheasantsforev- er.org.
Corners for Wildlife is available statewide but there are areas where funding will be focused to meet resource concerns that includes areas of biological significance, wildlife habitat opportunities, impact on water quality and quantity that fall within a Local Enhanced Management Area. One such area is the Rattlesnake Creek and Quivira LEMA. That area covers significant portions of Stafford and Kiowa Counties and a small portion of the northwest corner of Pratt County, according to project information from Pheasants Forever.
Pheasants Forever started taking program applications two weeks ago and Christiansen, whose office is in St. John, has had a lot of response to the program.
“In my area, I’ve had a ton of interest,” Christiansen said.
The program is on a first-come first-serve basis so there is no deadline to sign up. Program enrollment requests will be subject to funding availability and may change on a year to year basis. Local staff will fill out a Notice of Interest form and send it to Smith who will give final approval. Forms will be accepted even when annual funding is exhausted. They will be put on a waiting list for the next year.
For those farmers that sign up for the program, planting will start in the spring although there is an option to plant in the winter. Some farmers may choose to plant now. Some producers claim winter planting helps naturalize the seeds and improves germination. But Christiansen said he prefers planting in the spring.
Farmers that planted wheat or soybeans last year will have to wait a year before they can plant their corners to grass.
The producer will have to plant the seed using a special drill for native grasses that has an agitator in the seed box to assure even coverage. Pheasants Forever doesn’t have a planter but they know where they can get one for free or the producer can rent a machine.
Depending on moisture and soil quality, producers can expect to get good bird population increase results withing three to fire years.
That's about the time it takes for the grass to be come established, Christiansen said.
Producers will receive contract payments once a Pheasants Forever biologist certifies the project as complete.
Producers in the program will plant the corners on irrigated fields with a combination of grasses and forbs (broad leaf flowering plants with seeds) that provide cover and food for pheasants and quail, Christiansen said.
Corners for Wildlife is similar to the Conservation Reserve Program that pays producers to put land into grass for a set number of years to reduce water us- age, improve wildlife habitat and improve soil quality on land on highly erodible land or to provide conservation buffers to prevent polluting rivers, streams or lakes.
Producers will have to pay the cost of planting the grass and forbs on the corners. Pheasants Forever will cover 75 percent of the grass seed cost for the producer. Funding for the program is though the state Pheasants Forever program and private donations.
The grasses used for the project will be big blue stem, little blue stem, switch grass, sideoats grama and indian grass. In the sandy portions of the state, sand love grass will also be used because it has been adapted the sandy soil in Kansas. These grasses will create good cover but they are very poor as a food source, Christiansen said.
That is where the forbs come in. When pheasant and quail chicks are first hatched, they only eat bugs for the first four to six weeks of their lives. Many people consider forbs weeds but for the Corners for Wildlife program, they are the perfect plants because they host 10 times more bugs than grass plants. Chicks are not picky about what they eat. If it creeps or crawls they will eat it. Bugs provide essential calcium and protein, Christiansen said.