Precision Ag: From Planning to Planting to PLOTS

Emily Spolyar, NDPF

By Emily Spolyar, ND PF

Pheasants Forever’s (PF) Precision Agriculture and Conservation Specialists are intentionally positioned to connect not just with growers who are already thinking about conservation practices, but more specifically, with growers who may not be currently considering conservation practices as a viable solution to lower-producing acres on their operations.

These specialists seek out new connections with growers to add to the work of existing successful private land biologists found across the country delivering on the organization’s mission. A Precision Ag & Conservation Specialist focuses on working with farming operations to highlight how changes in practices, along with incorporating conservation-minded options can go beyond wildlife and soil health benefits to directly impact an operation’s bottom line and long-term business sustainability in positive ways. Grower-led plans are developed with many factors taken into consideration: the operation’s farm data, historical knowledge, and advice from trusted advisors, all while keeping available conservation program guidelines in mind.  

By using this approach to collaborate with growers, partners, and fellow resource professionals, a Precision Ag & Conservation Specialist can capitalize on opportunities that may have been missed otherwise. Such was the case on an operation in central North Dakota with Precision Ag and Conservation Specialist, Emily Spolyar.

In the early spring of 2020, Emily connected with agronomists and fellow outdoor enthusiasts, Brett and Ross Peterson, through the surprisingly ag-filled world of Twitter. As agronomy consultants with Centrol Ag Consulting, the duo saw the value of the work PF’s Precision Ag & Conservation Specialists do, both from the perspective of businessmen interested in long-term success strategies, as well as from being passionate upland hunters.

Seeing the value this could bring to their clients, Ross and Brett connected Emily with several of their clients who they felt would be interested in hearing more about the opportunities available to their operations. One of those operators was Farm Journal’s 2020 Top Producer Horizon Award winner, Chase Dewitz of CD Acres and Dewitz Feedlot.

“As agronomy consultants, when we saw the approach PF was taking to conservation that promoted grower-led projects with a focus on practicality and profitability for farming operations, Centrol Ag Consulting felt it was something our growers could take advantage of. At the same time, it would be helping the wildlife that, as hunters, we value. We knew growers like Chase would be interested in hearing about these opportunities. Helping our clients be more efficient and profitable, while also providing wildlife habitat, was a win-win for everyone involved,” Ross explained.

Emily began initial work with Chase that spring, identifying acres of opportunity for conservation practices that would benefit wildlife while simultaneously helping Chase’s operation be more efficient with time, inputs, and other resources. This work resulted in 61.5 acres of new perennial habitat being planted in the spring of 2020, but they didn’t stop there.

Together, she and Chase identified more acres that would be prime for a conservation program. Part of the role of a Precision Ag & Conservation Specialist is to ensure operators are aware of all program options available in their area, so Emily then connected Chase with the local North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) Private Lands Biologist who helped him navigate the Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program. This meant coordinating and working with various landowners whose ground Chase rents so that he could “farm the best and conserve the rest”.

“When opportunities like the PLOTS program come up, we do our best to make sure our landowners are aware of it so they can choose to take advantage of the financial benefits. It also allows us the ability to incorporate wildlife habitat in places where it makes sense,” Dewitz stated.

Through the PLOTS program, 282 more acres of perennial habitat were implemented in the spring of 2021. Together with Chase’s landowners, his operation enrolled 5,851 acres of new PLOTS ground and re-enrolled 1,259 acres for a total of 7,110 acres of public hunting access.

Curt Francis, East Region Supervisor with NDG&F, says “by working with partners such as Pheasants Forever, not only do we get quality wildlife habitat on the ground, but their connections can lead to increased enrollment in PLOTS and ultimately more hunting access for sportsmen and women.”

As shown through this project, collaboration is the key to success with PF’s Precision Ag & Conservation program. The work and support of the organization’s partners, and fellow ag and conservation professionals is what helps PF succeed every day. This, coupled with a grower’s willingness to consider proposed conservation-minded changes on lower-producing acres, is the perfect recipe for continued growth and success for years to come. And most importantly, it will result in more habitat for our treasured wildlife.

Emily Spolyar is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and North Dakota Pheasants Forever’s Precision Ag & Conservation Specialist.

Featured Photo: All Plotted Out.  Pheasants Forever’s precision agriculture program helps landowners identify marginal acres and find better uses for them, including habitat programs and state-funded access initiatives like North Dakota’s PLOTS to help maximize farm income for operators. DEO Photo by Rachel Bush, ND Pheasants Forever.

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