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Landowners get seed from Pheasants Forever

Doug Sly, left, and John Hegg stand by pallets of seed, waiting to load bags into landowners' vehicles. Pickups and SUVs lined Riverside Road Saturday by Big Green Fertilizer outside Mitchell to get the seed to plant for wildlife habitat. The seed was given away by the Pheasant Country Chapter of Pheasants Forever. (Anna Jauhola/Republic)1 / 2
Robert Farrell, right, loads a bag of seed into his pickup bed as his son Ram, center, and friend Josh Sachen watch. Farrell farms in rural Mitchell. (Anna Jauhola/Republic)2 / 2

With pheasant numbers down in recent years, a local seed giveaway is viewed as more important than ever.

More than 150 landowners got seed from the Pheasant Country Chapter of Pheasants Forever during Saturday's 28th annual Seed Distribution Day. Pickups and SUVs lined Riverside Road outside Mitchell as early as 7:30 a.m. to get 50-pound bags of seed at Big Green Fertilizer.

Chapter members gave the seed away until it was gone, said Mike Kuchera, habitat chairman. He declined to say how many total bags or pounds were distributed.

"Food plots are a necessity to carry wildlife through the winter when the snow gets deep," Kuchera said.

The recipient landowners are also members of the chapter, which was a requirement to received the seed. Most live within a 35- to 40-mile radius of Mitchell, Kuchera said. The landowners received bags of corn seed and Rooster Booster, a combination of grain sorghum, corn, millet and buckwheat.

Norm Schoenfelder, of Mitchell, has land in Aurora County and picked up seed to plant about 60 acres of habitat. He has planted food plots for about 15 years, he said.

"I'm an avid hunter," he said. "We plant it to improve the pheasant population."

Drought conditions affected the plots in the last year and Kuchera said many are hoping for a good spring.

"Let's all hope for spring moisture after we get these food plots in to make them grow and flourish," he said.

The Pheasant Country Chapter started on its own as Pheasant Country in 1985. The group had good membership, but wanted more exposure throughout the nation and access to more programs. The group joined Pheasants Forever in 2009.

Members now come from as far away as Canada and Scotland, knowing South Dakota is an excellent destination for pheasant and other hunting, Kuchera said. Members typically visit the area starting with the annual banquet held at the Corn Palace the day before the pheasant hunting season opener in October.

"We have a 1,100-adult strong membership right now. They come from all over the world," said Dave Allen, president. "We also have 200 youth memberships, which is really critical anymore."

Robert Farrell, of Mitchell, and his son Ram and friend Josh Sachen picked up enough seed Saturday to plant 40 acres on Farrell's land. Robert Farrell said family, friends and some out-of-staters hunt his land every year, and the food plots help boost the wildlife population.

"We want to make sure there is enough habitat for pheasants first, then deer and other wildlife," Robert Farrell said, who has planted the plots for 20 years.

Ram Farrell is the next generation to farm in his family and is attending South Dakota State University, majoring in agronomy.

"I went to my first banquet when I was 12 years old," Ram Farrell said. "I've been going ever since."

He said he's excited to come back to rural South Dakota to continue farming and supporting good habitat for all wildlife.