Field and conservation agriculture
Photos by Lynn Betts, USDA and Nebraska PF

Andrew Little, an extension wildlife specialist and assistant professor of Landscape Ecology/Habitat Management at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, suggested that using satellite technology known as “Precise Agriculture,” can be used for strategic targeting and conservation of landscape to increase farm profitability while also reducing habitat loss for native bird species and wildlife. Little said using this technology for precision conservation is the future of sustainable farming. 

Little spoke at UNL’s Center for Grassland Studies seminar on Sept. 21 and talked about “Strategic Conservation” through precise agriculture. 

Precise agriculture is farming technology that uses satellites to gather real-time data on soil, water and crop quality. Little said the data provides a more accurate and controlled way of growing crops and raising livestock. He said that detecting “low yielding acres” suffering from poor soil and water conditions through precise ag can be converted into natural vegetation zones. The zones will provide a habitat for local wildlife. 

Little said that today’s Midwest landscapes are made up mostly of large-scale crops, leaving little room for natural habitats for wildlife. 

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How will converting these patches into wildlife habitats help farmers? Little said the removal of land from production can be profitable. He said these low profitable areas in fields are causing revenue loss. He continued to say that by turning those areas of fields into pasture, there can be alternative ways to earn revenue.

“Hunting leases, grazing acres, etcetera. There’s a lot of different options you can potentially incorporate into this type of framework,” Little said.

For example, the habitats can increase the pheasant population resulting in the opportunity to profit off hunters and increase the whole field profitability.

Little talked about a soybean field in Iowa where they insert “prairie strips,” which are strips of natural vegetation placed strategically in areas that suffer from the aforementioned issues in the environment.

“They are putting (prairie strips) in about 10% of a corn or soybean field and the results they’ve been seeing are really impressive. Increase in bird species richness, decrease in total water runoff, and increase in soil retention,” Little said.

Changing landscapes through precise agriculture and conservation can be the future of sustainable farming and wildlife preservation. If put into practice in more fields, precise conservation can be a fix to accommodate the increasing need for larger fields while also conserving natural habitats and increasing farm profitability.