If left untilled and not sprayed with herbicides, fallow wheat stubble 15 inches or taller could provide pheasants with large tracts of vital habitat. A dense stand of broad-leafed weeds growing in the stubble is the key to its value to ringnecks, both as shelter from cold and wind in winter and as nesting and brood-rearing cover the following spring.
Studies by Randy Rogers, Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, reported pheasants' use of 7-to-10-inch stubble was about 90% below that of adjacent fields with 15-to-20-inch stubble. According to Rogers, "every five inches of additional stubble height resulted in a tripling of pheasant use." He also found that spraying with herbicides after harvest reduced pheasants' winter use of stubble by 80 percent.
Tall wheat stubble could have a positive effect on a producer's bottom line, as well. A Kansas State University study comparing different wheat fallow systems revealed profits ranging from $2.95 per acre for conventional sweep tillage throughout the fallow period to $39.50 per acre profit for a delayed minimum tillage system. Properly managed tall wheat stubble potentially yields substantially more dollars in pocket and more pheasants in the field.
Tall Stubble Pilot Program
Tall stubble may pay off in yet another way for farmers in parts of Nebraska's Panhandle.
Since 2002, wheat producers in the South Platte Natural Resources District have participated in a Tall Wheat Stubble Management Pilot Project, and farmers in the North Platte NRD began signing up acres after the 2004 harvest. Partners in the pilot project, which provide payments, are the two NRDs, Pheasants Forever and its local chapters, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Under the program, enrolled acres are open to public hunting.
Dense stubble with plenty of post-harvest desirable weeds is preferred, and fields with prominent post-harvest weeds may be considered even if they fall somewhat short of the minimum 15-inch stubble height. Payments vary accordingly. Participants may enroll a minimum of five acres to a maximum of 1,000 acres from harvest through the fallow period to the next planting, a period of approximately 14 months.