Rubendall, Mitchell,.S.D., is a farmer, rancher, pheasant guide and president of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.
As near-record numbers of pheasants take flight this fall in South Dakota, the "Chicken Littles" of this state have the sky falling around them, outrageously blaming corn and ethanol for declining pheasant numbers before the season even begins.
In the Sept. 1, Argus Leader article, "Ethanol could limit hunters," Ben Shouse engages in probabilities based not on fact but predictions about intentions of South Dakota farmers to plow up Conservation Reserve Program land to plant more acres to corn. It's time to stop digging up dirt on corn and ethanol and start reporting facts.
Corn plantings are up 9 percent this season in the state, and it's not the first time increased corn acres have paralleled increased pheasant numbers. State statistics show that the years of the highest pheasant populations in the state have corresponded with years among the highest acreage of corn planted.
According to the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the 1944-45 pheasant hunting season set numerous records for the state's gaming industry, citing 16 million birds. The year 1945 was also the 16th highest corn acreage on record. The take-home message is corn, conservation and wildlife can coexist.
The South Dakota Corn Utilization Council has partnered with South Dakota State University in a statewide effort to survey landowners about their actual intentions with their CRP acres.
Interestingly, the survey indicated post-CRP use of 25 percent of those acres in East River counties will remain in pasture/grass and just 6 percent will go into a corn-corn rotation. West River, 36 percent will stay in grasslands; 30 percent will go into wheat, 15 percent into alfalfa, 9 percent into other uses and only 1 percent into corn.
CRP is not the only land on which wildlife take refuge. Among the rows of corn, pheasants find shelter and food all winter long. What often gets lost in the CRP debate is this: The land enrolled in CRP is commonly marginal land that does not yield row crops well. As stewards of the land, farmers understand the importance of maintaining wildlife refuge where it makes sense, even though the incentives to do so are rarely monetary.
Make no mistake: Increased corn acres in South Dakota are equally imperative to the economic strength of the state as the recreational hunting industry is. This month, just weeks before corn harvest, two unit trains of corn for ethanol were imported into the state from Illinois, adding value to Illinois corn. South Dakota farmers need not share their in-state markets.
In a recent Argus Leader column, Tony Dean pointed out that the pheasant hunting industry is a $153 million boost to the state's economy. Comparatively, this year the state's corn harvest value will exceed $15 billion and the ethanol industry pumps more than $2 billion into the economy - those dollars are spent year-round in local towns and communities. The state of South Dakota also is the only state in the nation that would be entirely energy independent for automobile usage if need be and this is because of our agriculture industry today.
In the early 1960s, when pheasants were at their peak, 20 percent of my land was crop land and the remainder was pasture and alfalfa. One ol' boy who has hunted with me since those days remarked last year while hunting, "This is like the old days of the '60s, when the sky turns black with pheasants."
We now have 60 percent of our land into crop. Imagine that - the birds are still here. We have corn for our food, fuel, feed and cover for the pheasants.
Source: Ag United For South Dakota