Rice-duck partnership to receive $15 million in USDA conservation funding

waterfowl in Louisiana rice fields

Photo courtesy Voice of Louisiana Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to provide $225 million in funding to 88 Regional Conservation Partnership Programs, including two that involve a partnership between Ducks Unlimited and USA Rice.

Altogether, partners plan to contribute an additional $500 million to improve the nation’s water quality, fight drought, enhance soil health, improve wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.

Within the Rice Belt, two projects together will receive $15 million from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. More than 45 other entities have pledged an additional $15 million in funds and in-kind contributions.

Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the Rice Stewardship Partnership, Jeff Durand, shared his obvious excitement about the announcement.

“The notification that our proposals were awarded is just thrilling, the news of this funding could really not have come at a better time,” he said. “As producers we’re dealing with an ongoing streak of low commodity prices and luckily, the wide suite of practices available through EQIP and CSP will, in most cases, improve our bottom lines and add to our overall sustainability as an industry.”

The Mid-South Graduated Water Stewardship Program will receive $7 million to examine tactics to get more growers involved in resource conservation, particularly water. Arkansas will act as the lead state, with the project covering Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and central and northeast Louisiana.

Included is an option for producers to enter the carbon market by adopting advanced alternate wedding and drying, or AWD, through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program/EQIP 449 Irrigation Water Management practice.

AWD involves pulling the flood off mid-season and letting fields dry before reapplying the flood. Not only does it have the potential to save water, but initial research has shown it also reduces greenhouse gas production in rice fields as well as arsenic uptake.

The project will include 25 “Strike Force” counties and parishes and use an innovative outreach plan to engauge a new set of farmers who may not often participate in USDA or other conservation programs.

The Lower Colorado River Authority Regional Conservation Partnership Program will receive $8 million. The LCRA is the lead agency along with 21 initial partners, including USA Rice. Texas will be the lead state.

LCRA and partners will construct an off-channel reservoir in Colorado County, Texas, to increase the region’s water supply and help preserve regional economies susceptible to frequent and prolonged droughts.

The reservoir will provide critically needed irrigation water to farmers and Lakeside rice fields, which also provide habitat for waterfowl and water birds. The project will implement complementary Conservation Stewardship Program or CSP enhancements in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties near the Texas Gulf Coast. Included is outreach and funding for CSP enhancements on rice lands that provide habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife and aid water conservation.

The projects are a continuation of the DU-USA Rice partnership that kicked off with the implementation in 2015 of the “Sustaining the Future of Rice” RCPP project.