Chris Moorman, a wildlife biologist at North Carolina State says most farmers want more wildlife on their farms, but they want the right kind of wildlife. Having more deer or more wild hogs, for example, could be a bad kind of wildlife to develop.

Birds, on the other hand, are almost universally good for farmers. Not only do birds eat insects that can harm crops, they also are heavy feeders of seed from weeds and other unwanted plants.

The changes that have occurred in agriculture in North Carolina over the past decade or more have not been good for wildlife, Moorman says. “If you drive across Eastern North Carolina, for example, you see crop land separated by a fence or a ditch, followed by another field.

“Eventually you get to the end of a series of fields and you see woods. This is a sterile habitat for wildlife, and most species just can’t survive in this type environment,” Moorman says.

“To make things worse, many growers mow ditch banks and fence rows and along the edge of cropland. This further reduces the structure that could provide habitat for wildlife,” he adds.

A good alternative to this type land management on farms is to establish a field border. A good place for a field border is along the edge of wooded areas. These areas in the field are not likely to be productive because crops will be competing with trees and bushes for sunlight and nutrients.

Planting cover crops and plants that are preferred by beneficial insects and by wildlife can easily offset the cost of crops lost in these areas.

Another good place for field borders are along ditch banks. Field borders along ditches can provide excellent habitat for wildlife. Perhaps more importantly in some areas, field borders can filter water contained in these ditches and significantly reduce erosion problems, Moorman says.

There are cost share programs from the federal government to greatly lower the cost of constructing these barriers.

However, the typical manner of producing field borders in North Carolina is essentially doing nothing. Land is allowed to go fallow and whatever comes up is considered a field border. Unfortunately, ‘what comes up’ is too often pigweed and other plants you don’t want on your farm, the north Carolina wildlife biologist says.

A study at the CEFS looked at the comparative value of fallow barrier compared to planted barriers that produce plants which provide good habitat for host plants for beneficial insects and for desirable wildlife species.

Bobwhite quail have been big in the news the past few years. Quail and quail hunting were a part of the social environment in the South for more than 100 years, and now quail populations in some parts of the Southeast are almost extinct.

“We planted wildflowers like sunflower, Rubeccia, and purple comb flowers, which are good for beneficial insects. What we found was that these planted barriers were just as beneficial to quail and other desirable wildlife as were the fallow barriers.

“The reason is quail and other wildlife don’t seem to care much about the species composition, but they really need the structure,” Moorman says.

In the Upper Southeast, these planted barriers, which may be as small as 30 feet wide, by 300 feet long can make a difference with beneficial insects and some beneficial birds. Quail and other larger wildlife will need much larger areas of barriers to make a difference.

In the Southeast these barriers need to be disturbed every 3-4 years. Otherwise, these areas will be dominated by trees, which won’t provide the structure needed by beneficial insects and wildlife species, Moorman says.

rroberson@farmpress.com