Diversification isn’t only an investment strategy. It’s also a good land management strategy that can benefit both domestic livestock and wildlife.

In the financial world, diversification is a technique that reduces risk by allocating investments among various or diverse financial instruments, industries, and other categories. It aims to maximize returns by investing in different areas that would each react differently to the same event. Although it does not guarantee against loss, most investment professionals agree diversification is the most important component of reaching long-range financial goals while minimizing risk.

The strategy of diversification is also well understood by successful farmers and ranchers in Missouri. These land stewards know that allocating their investments among diverse agricultural production of crops, livestock or other agricultural products will reduce risks in the marketplace. These farmers and ranchers understand that each of these agricultural ventures will react differently to the same event. In the long-run, their family’s farm or ranch will more likely stay viable or sustainable over time.

Certain farming and ranching practices can also provide healthy diversity in the plant communities that Missouri’s wildlife species rely on for habitat needs. Those habitat elements can be met if land management practices provide the proper amount and quality of food, water, shelter and space.

In the case of the grassland habitat found in pastures and hay lands, plant diversity is something cattlemen understand. Providing sustainable forage systems for cattle is an allocation of investments. Forage systems with diverse types of grasses and forbs will not only maximize returns (weight gain) but also reduce risk of forage quality and quantity. This is important when unforeseen and uncontrollable weather events have a negative effect on available forage. That is good business.

There are many species of native wildlife that rely on what these forage systems supply for their habitat needs. Forage systems with native grasses and forbs have a physical plant structure which provides specific habitat needs. For example, a diverse mix of native warm season grasses provide a vertically tall structure, but also at ground-level, these grasses provided a “clumped” structure. Each individual plant grows bunch-like as opposed to an even mat or carpet of vegetation across the soil surface that many cool-season grasses create. Bunch grasses such as native warm season grasses and many native broad-leafed forb plants allows small animals such as very small quail chicks to walk on bare soil between the plants. Traveling for any small flightless chick under this tall protective screening on bare ground allows the defenseless birds to find a high protein diet of insects during the summer months and later an added diet of seeds as the plants mature.

Throughout the seasons, due to the plant structure these native grasslands afford, wildlife such as bobwhite quail find escape cover, ground roosting cover, nesting cover and especially brood-rearing cover. The more diverse the plant composition within forage systems, the more diverse the insect population becomes providing critical insect diet for many grassland wildlife species.

Plant diversity also helps migrant birds that use Missouri’s diverse grasslands as their summer breeding range. Nearly 30 species of neotropical songbirds (birds that breed and nest in the U.S. and Canada and migrate to Mexico, Central, or South America) use the diverse plant communities of Missouri grasslands to raise their young as part of their summer breeding range.

When land managers utilize the proper management tools including diverse plantings, conservative grazing techniques and responsible use of fire; they are making investments that benefit both agricultural goals and general landscape health.

That is wise use of the land for the farmers and ranchers that live off their land and the wild animals that live on it.

Tim Russell is wildlife supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation topics, call 895-6880.

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