“Having a diversity of flower species that bloom during different times of the year can provide the needed food for beneficial insects. Perennial bunch grasses can provide suitable shelter for a number of beneficial organisms. These plants are much less problematic than the crop weeds that grow in fallow areas. Establishing these flowers and grasses is as easy as scattering their seed, no equipment is required, and the only management they need is a fire burning every few years,” he says.

Aaron Fox, a North Carolina State graduate student, working with the university’s Organic Cropping Systems lab in the Crop Science Department is researching how these flowers and grasses affect weeds, and especially how they affect weed seed predators.

Horton says many research projects have shown that weed seed predators such as crickets, beetles and even mice can prevent a lot of seeds from becoming new weeds. Fox will be investigating whether planting these native prairie flowers and bunch grasses can provide enough beneficial habitats for weed seed predators to have an impact on the weed populations in crop fields.

The work Horton and others are doing to develop organic farming operations in the Southeast fit well with federal programs, which are designed to bring back quail populations.

The Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NCBI) was developed in 2002 to provide the framework for recovery of bobwhite quail populations. The NBCI suggests the majority of quail population recovery could be achieved through alteration of primary land use on 6.2 percent of farm, forest and rangeland acreage.

The NCBI goes on to say, “This could be accomplished, in part, by realizing potential wildlife benefits of conservation buffer practices implemented through a number of USDA farm bill conservation programs, including CP 33.”

Recognizing the problem has been a big part of the climb to recovery for northern bobwhite quail populations. Combining federal incentive programs, innovative research programs and increasing organic farming operations bode well for restoring a part of Southern heritage.

rroberson@farmpress.com