Most farmers have at least some marginal land they nurse along, hoping sooner or later it will “make” a good crop. But if you're tired of pretending those acres are truly going to be profitable, consider contacting Prairie Land Management (PLM) at Glenwood, MN.

“Most landowners only know about a few government programs they can enroll their marginal land in, such as CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) and CRP (Conservation Reserve Program),” says PLM owner and founder Kyle Thompson. “But there are over 350 land-use options available from federal, state and non-profits.”

Since 1994, PLM has been helping landowners, farmers and ranchers explore new land-use options that can ultimately help make them more profit as well as reduce operating costs. Most of the options include planting grasses, trees and food plots to increase wildlife habitat holding ability.

“We often experience a 20-30% increase in annual gross income while at the same time a 30-50% reduction in operating costs,” Thompson says.

Larry Maiers' specialty is farming and buying, selling and trucking grain. It's what he does best. When it comes to government programs and regulations, he says, “I can't keep up. It just gets confusing with all the different benefits. They change all the time and that's why I hired PLM.”

Maiers, who grows 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans at Stewart, MN, first started working with PLM seven years ago. He was putting acres back into CRP and under the advice of Thompson decided to use a special filter strip program.

“We got about $25-35/acre more with the filter strip CRP than just using the regular CRP contract,” Maiers says. “He (Thompson) saved us $100/acre on seed costs alone. It's something our local NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) office didn't make us aware of. Overall, he saved us $2,500 on that farm.”

Maiers now has another farm, about 105 acres, that he's again hired PLM to assess. The decision was to take the highly erodible land out of production and put it into various conservation programs.

“It's not waste ground, but I'll sometimes lose 10-15 acres of crop because of gully washes and bad erosion,” Maiers says.

“With $2 corn and high input costs, I think I'll make anywhere from $25-50/acre more with the programs Thompson recommends than actually farming it,” says Maiers. “If I'd have put it into the regular CRP contract, I'd have lost $40-50/acre.”

Maiers likes the idea that he's hired a professional to walk him through the land-use process and analyze all the programs available.

“They even do a cash flow and budget analysis for us. They run all the numbers,” Maiers says. “PLM is doing the planting with specialized equipment and they're taking care of all the paperwork. I like that,” he says.

Some people refer to Thompson's group as stockbrokers because they research all of the options and then present the best ones. And it must work because PLM has helped hundreds of clients in about 25 states across the country. About half are active farmers and the other half are absentee owners.

PLM works at taking out high-risk, low-producing areas of fields and transitioning them into options that pay better and/or enhance property for desired wildlife program lands. Some of the programs include Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy and NRCS.

“For example, CRP doesn't always pay as well as other available programs, usually 20-30% less, and CRP only cost shares 50%. Other programs are sometimes better and return more profits,” Thompson explains. “Also, taking out the marginal areas usually allows farmers to get into their fields sooner, resulting in more growing days and higher yields — as well as not having to replant areas.”

Thompson has worked for several organizations that deal with land use. He's also a former NRCS employee and knows his way in and around programs. “It's not just about knowing the programs, but rather how to use them to maximize their benefits,” he says.

When you sign up with PLM they even take care of the paperwork, often a big roadblock to using almost any land-use program. In addition, they work with crop consultants and land managers to identify parts of a farm that could easily be converted into habitat restoration areas.

Using precision ag technology, like global positioning systems, has been a big help to PLM and ultimately its farmer clients. “In the past, many farmers didn't have the technology to really know where their high-risk areas were,” Thompson says. “But now with yield monitors and grid sampling, fields can't lie. If the map always comes up as 5-25 bu./acre under the average, it's not productive enough. That's when other programs could be a better way to go.”

Before PLM begins, Thompson says they sit down one-on-one with farmers and go over objectives, then put a budget together incorporating cost-share numbers. It's then up to farmers to decide whether they sign up for a program, he explains.

PLM consulting service charges a flat-rate fee. Generally, that's about $5-10/acre on the area under review. PLM also guarantees their work. If they don't pay their way, they will refund the consulting fee without obligation.

Thompson says, “A lot of people signed up for CRP and found their costs to plant and maintain grass was too expensive. Sometimes it didn't pay for them to enroll at all.”

PLM provides farmers with turnkey services, including tillage and grass planting capabilities. “Often, farmers will do their own tillage and we come in and plant,” Thompson says. “We can even provide wildlife feeders and waterfowl nests.”

For more information about PLM, visit www.habitatnow.com.