Can new winter wheat varieties and improved agronomic practices result in more ducks flying south in the fall? That’s an intriguing question Bayer CropScience and Ducks Unlimited hope to answer through a program announced at this year’s Commodity Classic.

Bayer CropScience and Memphis, Tenn.-based Ducks Unlimited are partnering to launch a North American project that will be called “Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action.” Bayer is providing $20 million over five years to fund the project.

“By working with Ducks Unlimited, we want to expand the practice of growing winter cereals across the prairies in Canada and the United States,” said Bill Buckner, head of North America and president and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP, which is based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“We recognize winter wheat is an excellent crop that provides economic advantages to growers when included in cropping rotations while also enhancing waterfowl and other wildlife habitats.”

Bayer Crop Science’s Geoff Kneen, who will be working with Ducks Unlimited specialists, said the project is designed to:

• Enable significant research to develop new winter wheat varieties adapted to prairie climatic conditions while providing grower incentives, technical support and education programs;

• Promote improvements and research in agronomic practices; and

• Conduct waterfowl and environmental research to ensure a sustainable habitat and production system.

In the past, farmers in the upper Midwest and Canadian prairies have primarily grown spring wheat. But new varieties and agronomic practices are leading them to put more emphasis on winter wheat. That could be the beginning of an important trend for duck hunters and other waterfowl enthusiasts.

From a waterfowl conservation standpoint, one of the key limiting factors for continental waterfowl populations is a lack of nesting cover on the prairies. Ducks Unlimited Canada’s research has shown the density of hatched nests in winter wheat is 24 times greater than in spring wheat.

“Up until now, there has been a lack of hardy winter wheat varieties suited for the region,” says Kneen. “Bayer CropScience and Ducks Unlimited will offer rebates to growers who put in winter wheat rather than spring wheat.”

“This partnership between Bayer CropScience and Ducks Unlimited has the potential to provide unprecedented opportunities for expanding winter wheat on the prairies,” said Don Young, executive vice president of Ducks Unlimited who spoke at the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum at the Commodity Classic in Grapevine, Texas.

“This is research that will not only benefit Ducks Unlimited waterfowl conservation and habitat efforts in the Prairie Pothole region in Canada and the United States but also provide tremendous advantages to agricultural communities.”

From an agronomic perspective, winter wheat can provide economic advantages to producers in crop rotation. Winter wheat can yield 10 percent to 30 percent higher than spring-seeded varieties and autumn planting allows growers to spread their workload over more months.

“Partnering with Bayer CropScience is a great example of how a sustainable vision for the agricultural landscape includes both profitable agriculture and habitat conservation,” says Jeff Nelson, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s executive vice president. “Ducks Unlimited Canada is dedicated to working with farmers and the agricultural industry to find pragmatic approaches to waterfowl habitat conservation.”