Ducks and rice? A new partnership works for economic and environmental conservation
Missouri has something close to 200,000 acres of farmland devoted to rice production, making it the fifth largest rice producing state, according to USA Rice Federation.
The land, fittingly, yields rice, but that's not all. Thanks to a new partnership between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited announced in February, parts of it will also offer shelter to migrating waterfowl each winter.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” says David Blakemore of Campbell, Mo., who represents DU, a nonprofit that works to preserve waterfowl habitats, for the state of Missouri in the partnership.
Through the USA Rice-DU Stewardship Partnership, the industry advocate and the nonprofit hope to lobby for policies that help rice production and conservation of resources as both efforts face declining federal resources, urban encroachment and water issues in states such as California and Arkansas.
Rance Daniels, who has Daniels Farms about an hour south of Cape Girardeau, farms 3,000 acres, about half in rice. Each winter, he’s able to flood his fields, offering a place for migrating ducks to stop and rest. He can also lease those fields out to duck hunters and earn extra income.
Daniels, who represents USA Rice for Missouri in the partnership, says he believes about half of the land used to grow rice in the state is also used for habitats.
The partnership marks a growing trend, says Patricia Hagen, executive director of Audubon Center at Riverlands, with conservation groups finding opportunities and leveraging those with organizations' more traditionally concerned with economic development.
“In a partnership like that, it can be a really good win-win situation for both partners,” she says.
Ducks Unlimited itself is made up of duck hunters and conservationists, and the organization has worked with farmers and private duck clubs to increase the diversity of their habitats, she says.
“We have a lot of members who don’t pick up a shotgun,” Blakemore says. “We have a lot of members who do. But we all have a passion for the resource.”
Because of those efforts, Hagen says, the diversity of wildlife and birds in Missouri has increased. And the entire concept offers something for both parties -- increased biodiversity and land conservation on the one hand, and the potential to be good stewards of the land along with increased profitability on the other.
“Our agricultural producers are stewards of such significant amounts of land,” Hagen says. “And that land, depending on the way it’s used and maintained, can be a great habitat for wildlife.”
With decreasing federal resources, Blakemore says, “when we both speak with one voice, Congress can hear us more and get more done.”
For him, the biggest challenge was getting the two groups together.
Moving forward, the partnership will focus attention on critical resources for both groups -- water, working rice land and waterfowl.
The Rice Foundation, the non-profit education and research arm of USA Rice, contracted with DU to estimate both the economic and biological that rice fields in the country make toward the country’s population of waterfowl. Those results are expected later this year.
And while, to outsiders it might not seem like the most obvious alliance, those involved are focusing on what they have in common first.
“We’ve got a lot in common,” Blakemore says. “We’ve got people, ducks, water and rice.”