On September 23, 2013, USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Carrie Mosley announced the New Jersey recipients of the 2013 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG). The grant program, intended to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies, supports environmental enhancement and protection in conjunction with agricultural production.
One of only three CIG projects funded in the state was Laine Farms (Hillsborough, NJ) who will work with New Jersey Audubon to pursue a 3-year project on the “Use of a Specialty Commodity Crop to Aid and Maximize Habitat Values for Grassland Dependent Bird Species.”
With a limited economic market for native warm-season grass, along with trends in crop production moving towards increased corn and soybean production, Laine Farms and NJ Audubon are proposing an alternative to the standard biofuel crops. The alternative crop Spelt, is anticipated to provide agricultural producers with economic diversity and stability while also providing critical habitat for grassland dependent birds.
Spelt (Triticum aestivum var. spelta) is a sub-species of common wheat. Spelt is used for both human consumption, as well as an alternative livestock feed. Spelt is similar in physical structure and growing-season to the typical native warm-season grasses used for biofuel and can conceivably accommodate the needs of grassland dependent birds. The use of this surrogate crop also provides the producer with a viable commodity crop that already has an established and growing market in the United States, unlike the native warm-season grass for biofuel here in the Northeast. Furthermore, it can be planted with conventional equipment and is completely harvestable without the reliance on and/or restrictions of harvest presented under current USDA programs.
From an agriculture production standpoint, incorporating spelt into an existing crop rotation has benefits to the farming operations overall with improvement to soil and water quality. Spelt typically uses less fertilizer (e.g., Spelt requires about 25-50% less nitrogen than wheat) and chemicals for weed control than conventional crops and it can be utilized as an alternative cover crop. Spelt grows successfully in poorer soils (i.e., poorly-drained, low-fertility) than wheat, including heavy clay, and can even tolerate dryer conditions as well, including sandy soils. Spelt is drought tolerant and does not require irrigation, making it similar to native grasses. Based on this information alone, regarding soil and moisture requirements, spelt theoretically could be grown in every physiographic region of New Jersey.
Spelt is also very resistant to frosts and other extreme weather conditions and the grain's exceptionally thick husk protects it from pollutants and insects. As spelt is a pure, original, grain and not biologically modified in any way, it is very resistant to the crop diseases that often plague modern crop varieties and it grows quite successfully without the application of herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides.
From a wildlife resource perspective, spelt is similar in structure to many of the native warm-season grasses promoted for biofuel use and more importantly spelt is typically harvested AFTER July 15. This harvest time will not impact the critical breeding bird months (i.e., April – Mid July); unlike the harvesting of cool-season grass hay crops or other grain crops such as rye, oats, barley or wheat.
The project has significant potential to resolve how to provide critical wildlife habitat on agricultural production land without sacrificing agricultural commodity (food) production. If successful this would be the first agricultural commodity crop that can be harvested without restriction, while providing critical grassland habitat to some of the rarest bird species in NJ.
This is Laine Farms’ 2nd CIG award, and the second in collaboration with New Jersey Audubon. This is New Jersey Audubon’s 4th CIG collaboration project.
Photos by John Parke (Top Right: Jim Laine showing spelt; Left: Close–up of spelt gain in husk; Right: Bobolink, a grassland species that is a Threatened species in NJ.
A guest blog to Stewardship by NJ Audubon volunteer Bonnie O'Connor
No, this isn’t about the famous Marx Brothers routine; the intention is to lift the basket off a very bright light. I am referring to the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp or the Duck Stamp as it is affectionately called. It is one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated.
My introduction to the Federal Duck Stamp program occurred when my profession as an Art teacher and my avocation as an avid birder collided. In an effort to inspire my sixth grade drawing class, I discovered the Junior Duck Stamp contest. The contest is open to all students grades kindergarten through 12th grade in all 50 states and U.S. territories. The program incorporates learning about conservation, science, and nature through artistic expression. As the young artists worked on their drawings, they learned about the fascinating story of the Federal Duck stamp including history, politics, artists, and wildlife. Most of all they learned the importance of conserving our natural environment, and then there were the ducks! Waterfowl mounts obtained from the Newark Museum combined with a myriad of visuals assisted the students in honing their drawing skills while observing the beauty and habitats of their subjects. The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor is the official site for Junior Duck Stamp entries and judging in New Jersey.
The Federal Duck Stamp contest is the only federally legislated Art competition in the country. The first Federal Duck Stamp was designed by Jay “Ding” Darling, a political cartoonist in 1934 at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It depicts two mallards about to land on a marsh pond.
On June 28th the 2013-14 Migratory Waterfowl Hunting and Conservation Stamp went on sale. It is a non-postal stamp that can be purchased at U.S. post offices, national wildlife refuges and at some sporting goods stores. It can also be purchased on line at www.duckstamp.com. The cost is $15.00 dollars. Hunters sixteen years or older must purchase the stamp for their hunting license. The Duck Stamp also serves as a “season pass” of entry to the 560 National Wildlife Refuges in the U.S.
Perhaps the most commanding reason to purchase a Duck Stamp is that 98% of the proceeds are used to invest in the conservation of wildlife habitat. Since 1934, sales of the Federal Duck Stamp have generated more than $850 million dollars, which has been used to purchase or lease over six million acres of wetland habitat in the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversee and manage these lands. Waterfowl are not the only wildlife to benefit from the sale of Duck Stamps. Numerous other birds, mammal fish, reptile and amphibian species that rely on wetlands have benefited. An estimated one-third of the nation’s endangered and threatened species find food and shelter in refuges established using Federal Duck Stamp funds. In New Jersey, the Fish and Wildlife Service has acquired 51,317 fee acres and 2 lease acres for the National Wildlife Refuge System using Duck Stamp dollars. This accounts for approximately 67% of all refuge land in New Jersey.
The Duck Stamp is a treasure at risk. The number of people who hunt waterfowl in the U.S. has declined since the mid 1990’s. This has resulted in a reduction of the number of Duck Stamps sold. The drop in revenue could mean a possible reduction in the protection and conservation of wildlife habitat. Although the Stamp is mandatory for a hunting license, each year it provides 25 million dollars in funds to protect wetlands habitat in the national wildlife refuge system for the benefit of wildlife and recreation. A 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted 71.1 million wildlife watchers in the U.S. and bird watching has been documented to be the fastest growing leisure activity. The population of non-hunters including wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, hikers, artists and stamp collectors represents a powerful force. The support of this community could insure continued success of the Duck Stamp program in the future.
Buying and displaying a Duck Stamp would be a symbol, a “badge of honor” of one’s respect for the conservation of the natural environment we all cherish.
As a member of several nature and wildlife organizations both national and local, I have yet to encounter advocacy for the Duck Stamp program. There are certainly numerous venues to raise awareness. Nature centers, workshops, field trips print ads in nature magazines to name a few. People are more inclined to support and protect what they love. I am confident that if more people were informed and understood what a $15.00 investment could do for conservation of these precious resources the likelihood of their support would increase substantially. Isn’t time we lift the basket off this bright light. Why a Duck Stamp? WHY NOT!
The Duck Stamp Story- Eric jay Dolin and Bob Dumaine 2000
The Wild Duck Chase- Martin J. Smith 2012
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service www.fws.gov