American agriculture has provided abundant high-energy foods for migratory and resident wildlife populations since the onset of modern wildlife management. Responding to anecdotal evidence that corn residues are declining in cropland, we remeasured waste corn post-harvest in the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV) of Nebraska during 1997 and 1998 to compare with 1978. Post-harvest waste corn averaged 2.6% and 1.8% of yield in 1997 and 1998, respectively. After accounting for a 20% increase in yield, waste corn in 1997 and 1998 was reduced 24% and 47% from 1978. We also evaluated use of soybeans by spring-staging sandhill cranes (Crus canadensis) and waterfowl during spring 1998 and 1999. Despite being widely available in the CPRV, soybeans did not occur in esophageal contents of sandhill cranes (n=174), northern pintails (Anas acuta, n=139), greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons, n=198), or lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens, n=208) collected with food in their esophagi. Lack of soybean consumption by cranes and waterfowl in Nebraska in early spring builds upon previously published findings, suggesting that soybeans are poorly suited for meeting nutrient needs of wildlife requiring a high-energy diet. Given evidence that high-energy food and numerous populations of seed-eating species found on farmland are declining, and the enormous potential risk to game and nongame wildlife populations if high-energy foods were to become scarce, a comprehensive research effort to study the problem appears warranted. Provisions under the Conservation Security subtitle of The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 offer a potential mechanism to encourage producers to manage cropland in ways that would replace part of the high-energy foods that have been lost to increasing efficiency of production agriculture.
Additional publication details
Less waste corn, more land in soybeans, and the switch to genetically modified crops: Trends with important implications for wildlife management