WFA is jumping into 2023 feeling inspired and motivated to spread the message of wild farming even more! This month we met up with old friends and made new ones at the 43rd annual EcoFarm conference, and at our first field day of the year. Besides covering these recent events in this newsletter, we share details about new studies on semi-natural habitats supporting avian pest control, the percentage of nature-friendly farming needed to recover bird species and information about a court case that paves the way for more wild habitat in urban spaces. We also ask for your help in advocating for climate solutions in the 2023 Farm Bill. Finally, we detail the process for applying for funds through the USDA Conservation Stewardship Program. The application period is open now for funding and technical assistance for on-farm conservation practices.
Enjoy this month’s news from the wild!
WFA was thrilled to join EcoFarm this month and share information about beneficial birds! We had a packed room for our presentation about how to attract and support these birds for pest control and we loved seeing songbird boxes on the Asilomar conference grounds. Staff enjoyed attending presentations on a variety of topics, including no-till, slow water, the need for more holistic pest control advisors, pesticide impacts to pollinators, repurposing ag land to balance groundwater supply and demand, and more. We look forward to continued connections within the ecological farming community.
Santana Lepe Orchards Field Day
More than 40 people joined us on January 25th at Santana Lepe Orchards in Livingston, California. Juan Santana opened up the event sharing his inspiring story of how he is increasing the diversity on his farm with hedgerows, compost and cover crops to improve pest control and pollination, create healthy soils and build a more resilient farm system. He described planting 2/3rds of a mile of hedgerows around his 77 acres of almonds as part of CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program, with WFA’s assistance. Throughout the morning, he encouraged grower participants to try planting a hedgerow.
Semi-natural Habitats on Organic Strawberry Farms and in Surrounding Landscapes Promote Bird Biodiversity and Pest Control Potential
By Karina Garcia, et al.
Agricultural intensification and expansion have degraded biodiversity in agroecosystems, jeopardizing the ecosystem services provided by wildlife. Researchers explored how organic strawberry farms in California could be managed to bolster bird biodiversity and shift community composition from strawberry-consuming to pest-eating species. They found that semi-natural habitat at the landscape (1000 m) and farm (50 m) scales were positively associated with mean abundance of all birds, with varying effects on different species. In particular, they found that the mean local abundance of species that consume Lygus spp. (a major pest), but not strawberry-consuming species, increased with semi-natural habitat at the farm scale. Further, nest density of Lygus spp. eating birds increased with increasing local semi-natural habitat.
These results suggest that increasing semi-natural habitat at the landscape and local scales can bolster bird abundance across farms, while pest control can be promoted locally by conserving or restoring semi-natural vegetation at the farm scale.
New Study Shows Farmland Bird Populations Rise with Nature-friendly Farming
A newly released 10-year study measured changes in the abundance of farmland birds on land managed under bird-focused lower- and higher-tier agri-environment schemes. The results showed that when approximately 10% of a farm was devoted to bird-friendly farming practices under the higher-tier scheme, this benefitted over half of the farmland bird species.
They Fought the Lawn. And the Lawn’s Done.
A recent court case paves the way for more wild habitat in urban spaces. Maryland couple Janet and Jeff Crouch sued after their homeowner association ordered them to replace their pesticide-free, wildlife-friendly garden with turf grass.
The Crouches were given 10 days to convert their front yard into a lawn that looked like everyone else’s. But instead of doing what they were told, the couple fought back. Their case led to the creation of a new state law that forbids homeowner associations from banning pollinator plants or rain gardens, or from requiring property owners to plant turf grass.
Insect, bird and wildlife populations are plummeting as a result of human activity, pollution and habitat destruction, prompting scientists to predict mounting mass extinctions in the coming years. With lawns making up one-third of the country’s 135 million acres of residential landscaping, these ecological dead zones have the capacity to become conservation corridors that support native bees, migrating birds, and many other wildlife.
Calling All Farmers & Ranchers: The Farm Bill Must Be a Climate Bill!
Help us tell Congress that the next farm bill must be a climate bill by signing on to this letter (text below). The next farm bill is being written now, and we want to see resources like funding, research, and risk management for farmers and ranchers to implement climate-friendly practices. The provisions and investments needed in the 2023 Farm Bill to ensure the long-term viability of our farms and food system are outlined in the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA). Sign the letter and share it with your fellow food producers to tell Congress to implement these solutions in the next farm bill. The goal is to reach more than 2,000 signatures nationwide. This letter will be delivered to Members of Congress in March during a farmer fly-in in Washington, DC.
Get Paid for On-Farm Conservation
The USDA Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides funding and technical assistance to farmers for new and existing on-farm conservation practices. The program covers many climate-friendly ag practices, like cover crops, resource-conserving crop rotations, buffer strips, rotational grazing, and more.
Here’s how it works:
Special note: CSP has funding set aside for farmers of color, veteran farmers, beginning farmers, and organic/transitioning farmers - so farmers in any of these groups may be more likely to have their applications funded. Also, the minimum annual payment is $1,500/farm, even if you only have a few acres to enroll. (The maximum annual payment is $40,000.)