America’s rice farms are a good bet for conservation
Last year, the USA Rice Federation and Ducks Unlimited (DU) formed a groundbreaking stewardship partnership to promote the conservation and enhancement of working rice lands and waterfowl habitat.
One of the hallmark products of that partnership was a study of the biological and economic contributions rice habitats make to waterfowl populations. And the results of the study – while no surprise to rice farmers – made news in April when we held a joint press conference at the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The study, authored by Ducks Unlimited’s Dr. Mark Petrie for The Rice Foundation, found that rice lands and waterfowl are inextricably linked, and that putting a price tag on the relationship quickly escalates into billions of dollars.
“The capital costs of replacing these rice [field] habitats with managed wetlands… approaches 3.5 billion,” the report says. And this does not include annual operation and maintenance costs – currently borne by rice producers – that are estimated to be at least $73 million.
The purpose of the report was to clearly and scientifically demonstrate the value working rice lands have beyond simply the nutritious commodity farmers produce for our tables. And it does so quite effectively.
So if rice farmers were well aware of this value, where’s the news? The news goes back to the recently passed Farm Bill and the newly created Regional Conservation Partnership Programs (RCPP), which we think will be highly valuable to rice farmers.
As U.S. farm policy continues to emphasize conservation programs as a significant component, RCPP is the next logical step to further leverage the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Programs (CSP) you are no doubt familiar with. All of these programs present outstanding opportunities for rice farmers to receive credit they are due for sound environmental practices they already employ, and offer resources to expand these practices and provide even more benefits.
USA Rice – DU Partnership
It’s crucial to note that central to these programs – and we wouldn’t support them if it was not – is the policy that participating land be working rice land. Our partnership is based on the belief that there can be social and environmental benefits to managing rice lands in a certain way. But, at the end of the day, if there is no economic benefit to managing rice lands that way, then farmers won’t be able to do it – nor should we expect them to.
We are pleased with our partnership; we’ve received accolades from policymakers and lawmakers in Washington, and now we are armed with scientific and economic data demonstrating some of the value behind our partnership. We encourage you to learn more about how you can use the USA Rice – DU Stewardship Partnership to enhance your use of best management practices, use the natural relationship between ducks and rice to secure more resources for your farm and improve your productivity and profitability with proven conservation practices.