Do you see fallow farm fields or old, weedy hay stands as you drive around Bradford County? If you manage farm fields, are there areas (in a normal year) too wet to mow?
Far too often we think of these areas as wasted space, or causes of frustration, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Instead of viewing these tough areas as a burden we should be viewing them as an opportunity for farmland wildlife and economic stability in the farmland ecosystem.
All the rain events over the last few years highlight those areas that are too wet to mow, too wet to plant, too wet to harvest etc.
These marginal, low production areas are often best suited for wildlife. With the recent rain lots of folks may be looking for opportunities. If you are interested in helping wildlife, just let these areas grow up into lush grassland, herbaceous vegetation. Once you’ve done that keep an eye out for non-native invasive plants and watch the habitat grow.
If you’re an agricultural producer, these areas may be poor preforming crop fields, low laying hayfields, marginal pasture, etc. These hard-to-farm areas, are probably costing you time and money. Why not set these poor yielding areas aside to create wildlife cover AND help your bottom line at the same time.
Growing some herbaceous cover allows Ag producers to save on synthetic fertilizers and other soil amendments, and lowers fuel consumption. If this seems like an option, try planting herbaceous grasses along field edges, and delay mowing fields until July 15 or after.
This allows many of the grassland/farmland dependent bird species to pull off nesting and the rearing of young. Many valuable grass species have been declining in Pennsylvania for the last 40 years due to changes in land use patterns leading to habitat loss. Chief among these changing patterns has been increased fertilizer efficiency, increased use of cool season forages/hay allowing earlier hay harvest during peak nesting season for these species.
As well as increased mechanization, and more efficient tractors.
In a working agricultural land setting where hay harvest is needed, consider keeping those marginal filed edges in grassland cover, providing a refuge and travel corridor for wildlife.
These areas are probably receiving shade and not providing much forage anyway.
If you have livestock other than diary cattle, delaying harvest of entire fields is probably more of an option. Mowing hay on a rotational basis approximately 1/3rd of a field each year remains a good option for maintaining grassland habitat.
If left un-mowed these areas continue to grow up to invasive plants and trees, providing little benefit to farmland wildlife that depend on this grassland habitat thriving on Northern Pennsylvania farms.
You can also manage these areas by “spot-spraying” certain herbicides according to label rates and recommendations if mowing isn’t feasible for you. Remember, land management is a way of life- not a single event.
Should you be interested in creating wildlife habitat there are many programs through the Farm Bill administered by USDA that may be of help to you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your local USDA service center, state wildlife agency, or conservation district to get started.
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.