An abundance of waste corn, a key food of many wildlife species, has helped make possible the widespread success of wildlife management in the United States over the past half century. We found waste corn post harvest in Nebraska declined by 47% from 1978 to 1998 due primarily to improvements in combine headers resulting in a marked decline in ear loss. The reduction in waste coincided with major declines in fat storage by sandhill cranes and white-fronted geese during spring migration. Sandhill cranes, northern pintails, white-fronted geese, and lesser snow geese avoided soybeans while staging in spring in the Rainwater Basin Area and Central Platte River Valley. These findings and other literature suggest soybeans are a marginal food for wildlife particularly during periods of high energy requirements. Soybean acreage has increased by 600% in the United States since 1950 and now comprises nearly one-quarter of the nation>'s cropland. With over 80% of the soybean crop now in genetically modified varieties and treated with glyphosate, weed seed is becoming scarce in soybean fields leaving limited food for wildlife on 72 million acres of U.S. cropland. We suggest that the combined effect of increasing efficiency of crop harvesting techniques, expansion of soybeans and other crops poorly suited for wildlife nutrient needs, and more efficient weed control through the shift to genetically modified crops may severely limit seed-eating wildlife populations in the future unless ways are found to replace high energy food sources being lost. We encourage more research to gain greater insight into effects of declining food resources on wildlife populations and propose that the conservation title of the 2002 farm bill be used as a mechanism to replace part of the high-energy food being lost due to changes in production agriculture.
Additional publication details
Less waste corn, more land in soybeans, and the switch to genetically modified crops: trends with important implications to wildlife management