USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has presented its first national “Legacy of Conservation” award to the USA Rice Federation. The award recognizes “outstanding organizations or individuals whose partnership efforts significantly contribute to America’s enduring legacy of conservation on our working lands.”

NRCS Chief Dave White presented the award medal and certificate to USA Rice Producers’ Group Conservation Committee Chairman Leo LaGrande, a rice producer from Williams, Calif.

“Rice farmers have a long history of dedicated conservation work and rice acres provide wetland habitat for many species,” White said. “The work that this industry does is important not only in providing food and creating habitat for birds and other species, but also in contributing to the preservation of our natural resources for future generations of young people.”

“The USA Rice Federation humbly accepts the award on behalf of all those in the rice industry who contribute in so many ways to resourceful conservation stewardship,” LaGrande said. “The industry is renewed today in its commitment to research and sound conservation practices that provide major wildlife benefits and contribute to the well-being of our communities.”

White recognized rice industry conservation contributions in California and the South and credited rice growers with supporting NRCS’ Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), created last year to increase and improve habitat areas and provide food sources for migratory birds affected by the Gulf oil spill. “Our goal was 100,000 acres. Rice farmers provided unprecedented support for the program and we enrolled 450,000 acres.” The rice industry’s participation in the MBHI enhanced the overall health of species that use the region, White added.

The Legacy of Conservation award medal includes the image of Hugh Hammond Bennett, who led the soil conservation movement in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, urging the country to address soil erosion. Bennett created, and was the first chief of the Soil Conservation Service, which would become the NRCS.

“We applaud and are grateful for the NRCS and all of its personnel who have for 75 years and will for many more, lead and benefit the nation with invaluable natural-resource conservation programs and practices,” LaGrande said.