Ag Allies

Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) are an iconic sight each spring in the fields and meadows of Maine. In addition to being a delight to see and hear, bobolinks and other grassland birds are true agricultural allies to central Maine farmers as these birds consume large quantities of both insect and weed pests each growing season.  Unfortunately, the population of these and other grassland birds is in a continuing steady and sharp decline, according to the State of the Birds 2014 (www.stateofthebirds.org) report.  Habitat loss is the main reason for these declines.   In addition, early and mid-season cutting of agricultural grasslands has catastrophic impacts on nesting success of birds using these habitats. Here in Maine, hayfields, particularly those used for dairy cow forage, are cut once and sometimes twice during the grassland bird nesting timeframe.  This cutting during the nesting period results in total nestling failure.

With this project, we aim to help farmers adopt a hayland management regime that allows for some grassland bird space and work to increase public understanding and awareness of this issue.

In addition, we are hopeful that as some farms make the shift to more sustainable hayland management practices, they will see an economic benefit to their farming operations (such as reduced fuel and labor costs) from making these changes, and thus these changes will become a permanent part of their farm management plan.

 

The Ag Allies project provides: 

Educational presentations, displays and articles: Educational presentations on bobolinks and their habitat are available to the general public to help them realize the benefits of keeping non-farm grasslands standing until after August 1st. Emphasis will be given to the point that even small pieces of ground left un-mowed through the summer provide wildlife benefits to birds, pollinators and other wildlife alike.

Bobolink Female, Picture by Laura Suomi-Lecker

Bobolink Male, Photo by Laura Suomi-Lecker,

On-Farm Delayed Mowing Program and incentive for active farm fields: We work with interested farmers to provide and improve needed grassland nesting habitat. This involves on-farm assessments to identify fields in use by bobolinks. We help farmers to assess their grassland management; helping them more intensively manage the most productive areas on their farm for higher yields over less land; help establish un-mowed blocks within nesting fields (using guidelines provided by Allan Strong, University of Vermont and Dr. Peter Vickery, Center for Ecological Research).
We also can direct farmers to the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Grassland bird management practice; which is an incentive payment for delayed mowing on fields where bobolinks are nesting for the 65 day period needed for bobolinks to raise young. In addition, this program provides for one-time, immediate funds for farmer incentive payments, as needed, to encourage the use of the program and reduce initial cost of management changes.

Bobolink Habitat Preserved Though Ag Allies In 2016

The ‘Let Your Fields Grow’ theme is not just for farmers and large landowners, however.  Many home owners have small plots or parts of their lawn that they can choose to let ‘go natural’ to really make a difference for many birds and pollinators as well.  Often times this is done in the form of pollinator blocks which can be enhanced with native plantings or just be areas where grasses, goldenrod, asters and daisies are allowed to flower, providing food for bees, butterflies and birds.  As many people now know, some of our native pollinators are in need of all the help they can get, such as the Rusty Patched Bumblebee.  See the Xerces Society for more information.

For further information, check out the following publications:

SCSWCD Habitat Conservation Mowing Article Habitat Conservation MowingMay2016

SCSWCD Articles on cooperating farms from the 2016 field season:

Paine Farm Delay Mowing 2016

Ingrahams Gold Top Farm Delay Mowing 2016

NRCS Grassland Leaflet: Management Considerations for Grassland Birds in Northeastern Haylands
and Pasturelands NRCS_Grassland_leaflet

Delay hay cuttings to allow birds to successfully fledge young – Project # 68–3A75–2–89; Summary Agricultural Wildlife Conservation Center Grassland Summary NRCS

Grassland Birds: An Overview of Threats and Recommended Management Strategies http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pifcapemay/vickery.htm

If you would like more information on the Ag Allies program, contact our District office. 207-474-8324 x 3

Funding for this program is provided by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. http://www.maine.gov/IFW/MOHF.html