A team of researchers soon will be surveying south Louisiana and Texas rice fields to determine how much food is available from farming and natural plants for migrating waterfowl along the coastal prairie.

The project is being done for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan – Gulf Coast Joint Venture. Partners in the project include the LSU AgCenter, Mississippi State University, Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several other state and federal organizations and nonprofit groups.

The researchers need access to farmers’ fields to collect core samples of soil from a depth of no more than 3 inches from freshly harvested fields and fallow fields.

“We’re working with them to facilitate the study and get them set up with farmers and landowners,” said Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter regional director for southwest Louisiana.

Linscombe said the sampling will determine how much rice is left behind from harvesting of first and second crops and the amount of wild seed in the soil. The data could be used to help get more funding for waterfowl.

“Ultimately, it could lead to additional funds to get more habitat if the data show more acreage is needed for food,” he said, adding that 10 farmers have already responded to requests for access.

The plan calls for sampling 25 rice fields and 25 idle fields, collecting 10 samples per field.

Brian Davis, a Mississippi State wildlife professor, said rice is an important food for waterfowl. He said data have been gathered in the rice-growing region from the bootheel of Missouri, Arkansas lowlands and north Louisiana.

Davis said south Louisiana is different because many farmers harvest a second crop of rice in the fall.

Michael Brashear, biological team leader from Ducks Unlimited, said the study will help determine how to fine tune wildlife management resources. If the study shows an adequate amount of food exists for the bird population, funds could be better spent on habitat and food supply in other parts of the United States, he said.

Linscombe said an LSU AgCenter research associate and a graduate student will do the sampling.

“The sampling will cause no negative impacts to property, farming operations or equipment,” Linscombe said. “Simply, two researchers will manually extract 10 or so core samples from one or two fields from each farmer. The time should not exceed two to three hours per sampling trip.”

Farmers interested in volunteering their fields for the study should contact Davis at bdavis@cfr.msstate.edu or 662-325-4790.