With Conservation Reserve Program acres decreasing, Emily Spoylar, Pheasants Forever precision ag and conservation specialist, hopes to be able to fill in the gap with programs that improve the land for grazing and other uses – and increase farm and ranch income.

“There are more options besides CRP that can help producers. I’m working with producers to increase farm income by integrating conservation practices on less profitable acres,” Spoylar said.

For the past two years, Spoylar has been finding programs that fit a producer’s unique land situation – putting certain acres back to perennial cover and other plantings that help wildlife thrive together with livestock ranches and crop farms.

That increases the value of the land by improving soil health and protecting water, as well as other natural resources.

“One of the programs available exclusively through North Dakota Pheasants Forever is our PATCH (Precision Agriculture: Technology, Conservation & Habitat) grant. This funding allows us to give 75 percent cost-share to producers interested in cover crops, perennial cover, and even pollinator plantings,” she said. “It’s a great program to consider, especially if you have areas where you’re struggling with salinity issues.”

With PATCH funding provided by the Outdoor Heritage Fund, Spoylar uses technology to identify under-producing acres and implement conservation plantings on those acres. 

“These practices not only help by reducing the input costs on a field, they also provide many soil health, water quality and natural resources benefits,” Spoylar said.

Spoylar works in southwestern North Dakota, based out of Dickinson. She has appeared at cover crop and other meetings to explain the program to producers.

“I’m looking for more producers who want to improve their land and their income,” she said.

Spoylar can go out to a farm/ranch and help with forming ag business plans to bring the farm back to profitability by focusing on non-producing areas that can support conservation and wildlife.

Some traditional row acres can lose money for producers, with inputs high and a continual loss of soil health.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to help producers become more profitable and see the amount of birds and other wildlife increase,” she said.

Increasing soil health through perennial cover or cover crops benefits livestock, as well as wildlife. Livestock need the right nutritional grasses or cover crops to graze, clean water sources and good protection from the wind and snow with shelterbelts, bushes and shrubs.

She works with partner agencies that have cost-share programs and also works with participating ag retailers such as grain cooperatives, certified crop advisers, ag lenders, consultants and others, to help farmers be both profitable and successful in their operations.

“I will be utilizing precision agriculture technology – focusing on return-of-investment (ROI) at a sub-field scale – to define areas where conservation practices and alternative working lands opportunities are more profitable for producers than traditional row crops,” she said. “By focusing on ROI, acre-by-acre, I can identify areas where conservation increases whole-field profitability, and that shifts a longtime perception that profitability and environmental performance are competitive.”

When she works with a rancher or farmer, it is completely confidential.

“NDSU puts out a yearly average crop budget combined with yield data and that is where I start,” Spoylar said. “It is all confidential and I can either come out to a producer’s farm or ranch or he/she can come to me.”

Spoylar hopes her efforts will produce many more birds for southwestern North Dakota. She hopes to create new opportunities and more profitability for farmers and ranchers.

Spoylar grew up in Michigan and participated in FFA and 4-H. At the University of Northwestern Ohio, Spoylar graduated with a degree in ag business.

After graduation, she worked for Nutrien Ag Solutions in southern Michigan first as an intern, followed by a full-time position as a crop consultant.

“Collaborating daily with local producers and partner organizations to help develop sound agronomic and economic plans for working farms, Spoylar brings a wealth of land management and agricultural knowledge to her new position,” said Rachel Bush, state coordinator for Pheasants Forever in North Dakota.

For more information, contact Emily Spolyar at espolyar@pheasantsforever.org or by phone at (517) 250-2440.