Cooperative Farming Program
Tennessee NWR has an active cooperative farming program for the primary purpose of providing food and other needed habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. Initially, there were nearly 9,000 acres of farmland on the Refuge until 1979 when the farmed acreage was reduced to around 5,500 acres. During the early 1990's the farmed acreage reached an all-time low of around 1,700 acres in row crops. Currently around 3,000 – 3,300 acres of farmland are planted on an annual basis. Farming is an important part of the Refuge management, providing grain and browse to meet waterfowl objectives. Refuge staff work with local farmers and in consultation with agricultural experts to ensure that the program achieves habitat management goals while providing economic benefits to the community. Most of the farmlands are managed under a cooperative farming program, but some planting by refuge staff of winter wheat and millet occurs each year. Planted crops such as corn, milo, millet, and winter wheat supplement natural foods that occur on the Refuge. Corn is most often the crop chosen for Refuge shares, although millet is planted in areas too wet for corn production. Winter wheat is planted for green browse for geese. The Refuge’s share of the crop is typically unharvested and left standing to be manipulated later so that it is available for waterfowl usage. Standing crops are generally knocked down in the fall and winter or flooded by careful water level management to provide an access to energy rich food important for waterfowl visiting during the fall and winter. Under current management strategies, the Refuge can only flood about 1/3 of the corn crop that is left as Refuge share. Traditionally, corn that will not normally flood to a desirable depth is put on the ground by mechanical means. Generally, 1/2 of the crop is put down in early winter, with the remainder put down after the first of the year.