Home Conservation of grassland birds may provide incentives for qualifying farmers

Conservation of grassland birds may provide incentives for qualifying farmers

Rebecca Barnabi
farmer in field
(© scharfsinn86 – stock.adobe.com)

Qualifying farmers and producers who adopt certain land management practices to help improve habit for grassland birds are encouraged to apply for an incentives program.

Through November 15, Virginia Grassland Bird Initiative (VGBI) is accepting applications for its 2023 financial incentives program. The program pays qualifying farmers and producers in 16 counties, including Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

In the program’s second year, according to a press release, VGBI provides incentives for farmers and producers who adopt either of two specific best management practices to protect grassland birds during their nesting season. Qualifying producers can receive up to $35 per acre for delaying their first cut of hay until July 1, 2023 or later, or for rotating livestock out of select fields between April 15 and July 1, 2023 or later.

The press release stated that these practices can also encourage stockpile of forage for late summer grazing, rest and reseed of fields, as well as reduce feed expenses.

“Delaying the first hay cutting until at least early July is a game-changer for our grassland birds because it allows the bulk of them to fledge at least one successful clutch of young. That quickly changes a hayfield from being a site of population loss to one of population gain,” October Greenfield, VGBI co-coordinator and PEC wildlife habitat coordinator, said in a press release. “Meanwhile, rotating livestock out of select fields in the early spring and allowing those fields to rest until early summer, a practice called summer pasture stockpiling, is proving to be beneficial for cattle, soil health and producer profitability, in addition to providing improved grassland bird nesting habitat.”

A minimum commitment of 20 acres is required to qualify for the program, because most grassland bird species need wide expanses of grassed for nesting.

“With the majority of remaining grasslands in Virginia currently held in private hands and under agricultural use, VGBI gives farmers the opportunity to become partners in conservation by implementing grassland bird-friendly agricultural practices. We work with farmers to create conservation plans that protect grassland birds while simultaneously supporting their production goals,” Greenfield said.

A partnership of Smithsonian’s Virginia Working Landscapes, The Piedmont Environmental Council, American Farmland Trust and Quail Forever, nine producers enrolled 500 acres in VGBI’s first year. Four landowners delayed haying on summer pasture stockpiling voluntarily without the program’s incentives on another 1,306 acres.

Expansion in 2023 is possible with increased funding from the Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative and VGBI’s growing partnerships.

Native grasslands have suffered more intense impact by humans than any other North American terrestrial ecosystem, according to the press release, and remaining grassland birds have adopted hayfields and pasturelands as surrogate habitat. Therefore, conservation of grassland birds falls mostly on private landowners and farmers.

“Although at times they seem at odds, livestock agriculture and wildlife conservation can benefit one another. It just seems obvious to me that this program is a win/win scenario for both,” the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Tim Mize, a member of VGBI’s steering committee, said in the press release.

Sam Grant leases pastures at Francis Mill Farm in Loudoun County and participated in the summer pasture stockpiling.

“The best of this program is how little impact it had on my normal grazing schedule. I delayed grazing the field until mid-July with no negative impact, and the morning visits from birders were discreet and pleasant,” Grant said in the press release.

Fritz Reuter appreciated the ecological benefits of the program at Little Milan in Fauquier County.

“Delayed cutting correlates nicely with the timing of when our native warm season grasses are most active and can outcompete dormant vegetation like fescue and orchard grass,” Reuter said in the press release.

Applications are available online.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.