Category Archives: Farmland

House “Sodsaver” Measure Would Protect Native Prairie Habitat

Protect Our Prairies Act would limit taxpayer-funded incentives to destroy native grasslands

02-14-2013 // Aviva Glaser
sod1

Representatives Noem (R-SD) and Walz (D-MN) today introduced legislation to save America’s grasslands through a national sodsaver provision. The Protect Our Prairies Act, which has the support of eight bipartisan co-sponsors, is common-sense legislation that would reduce taxpayer-funded incentives to destroy vital grassland resources.

Aviva Glaser, Legislative Representative for Agriculture Policy at National Wildlife Federation, said today:

America is at risk of losing one our most iconic ecosystems. Native prairies, along with the wildlife that are dependent upon them, are disappearing at an alarming rate. The Protect Our Prairies Act will help protect this vital resource by promoting management practices that conserve native grasslands.

“Without a national sodsaver provision, we will continue to see native prairie habitats converted to cropland, despite the fact that this vulnerable land is often marginal, highly erodible, or prone to flooding. It’s time we get rid of the perverse incentives that encourage farmers to destroy native prairie for marginal financial gain.

“With this legislation we can protect vital habitat for declining wildlife and save taxpayer dollars while ensuring that some the riskiest land for crop production is kept in grazing use. It is critical that the House Agriculture Committee include this national sodsaver provision in the 2013 Farm Bill.”

Link to The National Wildlife Federation

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UNI student helps return cropland to native prairie Article from The Gazette

Researchers assessing benefits of converting grasses to biofuel

Tall Grass Mix

WASHBURN — University of Northern Iowa professor Mark Myers considered it a “theoretical exercise” when he assigned his wildlife ecology and management students to develop a habitat management plan for a local site.

But, said Myers, Jarrett Pfrimmer, 25, of North Liberty, “took the assignment to heart,” and a year later, prairie grass was growing on 20 acres of former cropland along a Cedar River tributary.

“I did not think he could make it happen in that short a time,” said Myers, who is working with Pfrimmer on another major project with the potential to restore natural functions of the Cedar River watershed — research to determine the feasibility of native prairie as a biofuel.

Pfrimmer, who will complete work on his master’s degree next month, said he worked with the Black Hawk County Soil and Water Conservation District to line up cost-share funding for the stream buffer project.

The Boone native said he also took advantage of expertise at UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center to plan and execute the 120-foot wide buffer strips on both sides of Dry Run Creek, which flows past the UNI campus en route to the Cedar River.

Seeded a year ago, the native vegetation will become well established next year, greatly reducing erosion from the former farm fields, improving the quality of the water flowing into the Cedar and providing habitat for songbirds, pheasants and other wildlife.

The absorbent grass also will play a small role in reducing the crest of future Cedar River floods.

“Every little bit helps” when it comes to watersheds’ ability to store and slowly release floodwaters, said State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a leader in legislative efforts to improve watershed management.

Small-scale improvements like the two Black Hawk County projects can help create a mindset and policies “that will help buy down flood peaks for those of us downstream,” Hogg said.

In addition to the Cedar Falls stream buffer project, Pfrimmer has worked with Myers and others to assess the benefits of converting cropland into a prairie biomass production site at the 593-acre Cedar River Natural Resource Area about 10 miles south of Waterloo.

On flood plain land that had formerly been leased for row crop production, the researchers established 48 test plots, each seeded with one of four types of native vegetation ranging from switch grass alone to a mix of 32 species of grasses, legumes, forbs and sedges.

Those plantings were equally distributed among three distinct soil types, enabling the researchers to control all key factors contributing to the productivity of native grass not only as a source of energy but also as habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

The research got off to a rocky start with the historic Cedar River flood of 2008 wiping out the initial seeding. The plots were reseeded in 2009, burned in 2011 and finally harvested in April, compressed into 550-pound rectangular bales, with an average yield of 4 tons per acre.

About 150 of those bales were later pelletized for an upcoming test burn by Cedar Falls Utilities. “We’re looking to find out how well it burns for energy generation,” said Daryl Smith of the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center, a partner in the research.

Researchers have suggested that cultivation of low-input, high-diversity grassland biomass could have significant energy and environmental advantages over corn-based ethanol, according to Myers.

While it remains to be seen whether the energy yield would justify conversion of marginal farmland to production of native vegetation for use as an energy source, biofuel production with diverse mixtures of native prairie vegetation “contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers concluded.

Grassland birds and butterflies quickly found and colonized the test plots, according to Myers.

Pfrimmer, who has led bird data collection efforts, will soon complete his master’s thesis on “Bird Use of Heterogenous Native Prairie Biofuel Production Plots.”

In each of the past two years, he has found at least 100 delicate nests hidden among the grass stems by species such as the sedge wren, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow and lark sparrow. Pheasants and turkeys also have moved into the grass, he said.

“We are starting to see different bird communities established in the plots in accordance with their preferences for the vegetation mix and even the soil types,” Pfrimmer said.

Article taken From The Gazette Newspaper

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[IOWA-NATIVE-PLANTS] Developing Problem – Wild Feral Hogs

There is a developing problem in native habitat areas. Wild feral hogs have been a plague in southern states and have been known to be far southwestern Iowa for nearly a decade. They are spreading farther into the state. Last week, two were killed in Crawford County, north of Denison. They can be dangerous to individuals hiking or working in remote areas and they are an ecological disaster. They can root up and destroy large areas of vegetation and devastate native wildlife.

They multiply rapidly, having two or more litters a year, and can start reproducing six months after birth. If you should encounter one in the wild, give it a wide berth and report it immediately to the DNR. They may have large tusks and can be quite fearless. Be careful when you are out and about, and take this threat seriously.

By: Larry Grill

 

[IOWA-INSECTS] Monarch butterfly research story

Here in SE MN I noticed the same lack of Monarchs in mid-summer. We also had robust milkweeds with very few larvae. I heard from (entomologically oriented) folks in NE MN that in June they saw far more Monarchs than usual, but with their relatively low population of milkweeds the Monarch seemed to overload the larval food plant. Then in August the flight of Monarchs here in SE MN was the lowest I have every seen.

Joel Dunnette

 

On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 8:21 PM, Bruce And Georgeann <crazcoot@evertek.net> wrote:
I have been following this topic and want to ask about another angle of the past summer’s Monarch slump -at least it was in Nw Iowa.

The Monarch Butterflies, were a real concern here this year. We had quite good numbers showing up in early spring – in fact the dates were record early arrivals for us. And I witnessed egg laying in the pasture…even photographed eggs as they were so obvious. But the thing that really puzzled and concerned me was we had no egg hatches and no caterpillars all summer! I have never, in my life, “Not” seen a Caterpillar all spring, summer or fall!!!???!!! Why after finding eggs, I could later not find larva?

Then the summer was “scant” as far as Monarchs were concerned. Nearly none, just a handful all summer. This should not have been the case here, we had the largest crop of Asclepias (milkweeds) that I’ve ever seen here…we had A. tuberosa(Butterfly Milkweed) in record numbers…they were stunning all over the county…even the area farmers were asking me what that “orange plant” is showing up everywhere! We had way more A. syriaca (Common Milkweed) than I care to see here – the neighborhood is coated with seed parachutes from our pasture…not a real “good neighbor” relations maker with the local farmers. We also had a good share (but down slightly from past years) of A. verticillata (Whorled Milkweed) and a small compliment of A. incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) in the ditches out front.

I witnessed a lone Monarch laying eggs on some Common Milkweed outside the studio windows in late August and tried keeping an eye on them – they were gone after just 3 days!? I don’t know of “egg” eaters in the insect world but maybe something is going on? I know of parasitic wasps in caterpillars – but saw NO CATERPILLARS all summer (as I said before). I haven’t the foggiest idea what is going on?

This fall we had virtually no Monarch roosts here – we usually have 150-500 individuals roost here each fall. 13 was our high number in a roost this fall…”6″ was the other high day…”high” used very sarcastically…

Some folks following this have raised issue with the drought hurting the mid section of the continent’s Monarch survival…I’m sure that has some bearing. They also have raised issue with GMO crops. But it does nothing to explain a local phenomenon like we’ve been experiencing here…eggs laid but no hatching, no larva…with an abundance of food source for larva and adult stages. We do not spray insecticides here on the acreage, but I have no knowledge of GMO crops or spraying issues in the surrounding area, so I can’t speak to that.

Am I imagining things or is there anyone else raising these kinds of observations or concerns? …Bruce Morrison, SE O’Brien County

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Hickory Trees Are Abundant In The Midwest so We thought This Was A Very Interesting Article On “The Elusive Hickory Syrup”

Truly elusive, or surprisingly easy? What’s the truth behind hickory syrup, and just what IS hickory syrup anyway? A lucky break gave me a head start on this topic, and now I can tell you about a recent food sensation — hickory syrup.

You’re probably thinking hickory syrup is analogous to maple syrup: tree sap collected and boiled to concentrate the sweetness. But hickory syrup is made in an entirely different fashion, and its flavor is said to be in a whole different league from “simple” maple syrup. Fans of this traditional American concoction, and there are now many, claim it has an incredible, unique taste. Food writer Ronni Lundy first sampled hickory syrup in 2001 and told readers of Gourmet Magazine that the flavor is “sharp and buttery”, slightly smoky, and in the right setting, even flowery.

The average, non-“foodie” reader (and I include myself in that group) has never heard of hickory syrup. Don’t feel left out; the existence of this substance, and even the recipe for its creation, seemed to have eluded almost the whole of 20th century civilization until 1991. That’s when a lucky meeting between an Indiana country gentleman and some recently transplanted entrepreneurs brought hickory syrup into commercial production. Thanks to Hickoryworks Inc., hickory syrup is now just an Internet server and a credit card away. The Hickoryworks “crew” (husband and wife) brews up about a thousand gallons of the artisanal product each year.

Hickory syrup created the Hickoryworks way is made from the loose bark that peels from the shagbark hickory tree. A video on the company’s home page shows bark being collected, washed, boiled and sweetened in the syrup making process. However, Gordon Jones of Hickoryworks prudently keeps certain details of the process a secret. Wouldn’t you, if you knew how to turn tree bark waste into a sixty dollar (or more) per gallon commodity?

Ironically, while a commercial source of hickory syrup now exists, the product itself remains hard to come by. So many creative chefs, both professional and amateur, are devotees of hickory syrup that it is once again elusive; Hickoryworks website states at this writing that new orders are not being accepted due to high demand. What is the curious consumer to do?

Can you make your own, as self reliant Native Americans and 19th century Midwesterners used to?

Got hickory trees? Several species are quite common across eastern North America. Perhaps with some guidance, you can make your own hickory syrup. After my research, I would technically describe hickory syrup as “a sweetened extract of flavor derived by boiling something, other than sap, from a hickory tree”. I have seen evidence that the Hickoryworks folks are not the only ones in the world actually making hickory syrup, though they are the only commercial vendor that I found. If you visit the Hickoryworks site and look at their prices, I think you’ll agree that home-brewing of hickory syrup is worth a try. And lucky for both of us, I had my own chance encounter with a hickory syrup crafter.

Ah, the Dave’s Garden community, font of garden wisdom and diverse information.

When the editor suggested this topic (the elusive hickory syrup) I recalled having seen some mention of the syrup while browsing in Dave’s Gardens forums. In short order, I relocated the posts that I remembered. A DG member had said that hickory syrup was easily made using cracked shells of various hickory nuts, as well as by boiling shed hickory bark. He was kind enough to email me a copy of his writing on the subject of hickory syrup making.

Self-described hickory “nut” Dr. Lucky Pittman tells about his experience with homemade hickory syrup in a paper submitted to the Northern Nut Growers Association newsletter. With his permission, I present the following instructions for making your own hickory syrup from bark or nutshells.

Ingredients:

a large pot full of cracked shell and husk, or cracked whole nuts from shagbark or mockernut hickory, or of exfoliating bark scraps collected from shagbark, shellbark or pignut hickory trees.

Sugar

Water

Wash and drain the nuts, nutshells or bark pieces to remove loose dirt. Put the bark or shell into a large pot and cover with water. Boil the mixture all day. (Makes the house smell good!) Strain out the solids and measure the liquid. Return the now brown, aromatic hickory “liquor” to the pot and add sugar in a proportion of one and a half times the amount of sugar as you have of liquid, for example four cups of liquid needs six cups of sugar. Boil this for thirty minutes. Pour the syrup into canning jars and seal them. (Not specified, but I would suggest you may want to store in the refrigerator) You may adjust the amount of sugar a bit but too much sugar will simply crystallize in the jar.

That sounds simple enough. I will give certainly give the Hickoryworks folks due credit; I’m sure they’ve been diligent in standardizing their recipe to turn out a consistently high-quality product. A video on their home page will give you a little more insight into the technical aspects, such as Brix testing, of their process. Between hints from Hickoryworks, and the experience shared by Dr. Pittman, I think we have the makings of some fun experiments in hickory home brewing to warm up the rest of autumn. Good luck, and let me know how it turns out. I’m off to identify some local hickories.

Thanks to Dr. Lucky Pittman for generously sharing his knowledge. Thanks to DG Uber melody for the thumbnail photo.

Need help identifying your hickories? Shagbark hickory has a distinctive, crazily shaggy outer bark. Other hickories may be difficult to pin down; the Virginia Department of Forestry states that wild hickories hybridize easily, making identification tricky.

By Sally G. Miller
October 4, 2012

Article Taken From Dave’s Garden Website

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