The longest U.S. corn slump since the 1980s has turned into a bumper year for South Dakota’s $220 million pheasant-hunting industry, the nation’s biggest.
Low prices for the No. 1 crop in South Dakota have encouraged growers to leave more land fallow, which helps expand habitat for the speckled game birds that are the official symbol of the state. The Game, Fish & Parks department is forecasting the biggest wild flock in at least five years.
At SoDak Sports in Aberdeen, sales of hunting licenses topped last year’s total, with a month left in the season.
“We’ve been busy selling gear, lots of ammo, guns,” said SoDak Sports owner A.J. Hoffman, whose sale of hunter orange gear this season has put his store in the black. “People buy guns for their kids, their grandkids.”
While an exact flock tally for this year isn’t available, a state survey indicated 42 percent more birds per mile than last year. Milder winters helped, allowing more pheasants to survive to spring. But corn prices are less than half their 2012 peak and down for a third consecutive year — the longest slump since 1986.
Corn farmers in South Dakota, the nation’s sixth-largest producer, reduced acreage by 11 percent this year to the fewest since 2010, and soybean planting was cut by 1 percent, government data show. The two account for half of the land devoted to the state’s principal crops and more than two-thirds of its crop revenue.
Corn stalks are a poor habitat for wild birds, and the rise of corn monocultures, with little crop mixture, also reduces animal numbers, said Lisa Schulte-Moore, a land-management professor at Iowa State University in Ames.
With less land being cultivated, wild pheasants are reclaiming the territory after their population plunged during a period of record-high crop prices and expanded planting. The flock declined 48 percent to 6.2 million in 2013 from 11.9 million in 2007, state data show. Last year it rose to 7.5 million and it is forecast to rise again this year, said Travis Runia, a state game biologist.
During the plunge in the pheasant flock, the number of hunters coming to South Dakota dropped 28 percent over a decade, government data show. With data for the season nearly complete, out-of-state licenses rose 7.1 percent from a year earlier, according to the state.
“This is better than the last five years,” said Christopher McKenzie, 32, who hunts on land his wife’s family first homesteaded in the late 19th century near Aberdeen.
(Source – http://triblive.com/business/headlines/9636769-74/state-corn-percent#ixzz3uSzUk4Sl )