Rice producers and Ducks Unlimited representatives convened for an historic first Stewardship Partnership conference on March 14. The day-long meeting was the formal organizational kick-off to develop an agenda of activities the two organizations could undertake to conserve and improve working rice lands, waterfowl and water, the natural resource that is essential to viable rice production and waterfowl conservation. The USA Rice Federation and Ducks Unlimited (DU) announced formation of the Stewardship Partnership in February.

Al Montna, a member of DU’s Conservation Programs Committee and a California rice producer, and Louisiana rice producer Jeff Durand co-chaired the discussions for the two organizations, respectively.  Rice producers Jeff Rutledge, Arkansas; Leo LaGrande, California; Gibb Steele, Mississippi; Rance Daniels, Missouri; and Linda Raun, Texas, participated with Durand on behalf of the rice industry.  DU members Brandon Bauman, Arkansas; Doug Miller, Louisiana; Charlie Heinsz, Mississippi; David Blakemore, Missouri; and Rogers Hoyt, Texas, engaged in the talks with Montna for DU.

“Rice producers and their families are conservationists and their working rice fields provide significant water and habitat resources that feed and house waterfowl so effectively, so it is important that rice producers collaborate with the world’s leading duck conservation organization, Ducks Unlimited, to address issues mutually important to both sectors, in particular providing enough water to profit rice production and ducks,” Durand said. “Our first meeting was a very successful shared dialogue and we look forward to advancing the partnership on behalf of working rice lands, waterfowl and water.”

“The first combined meeting of Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation was greatly successful,” said Al Montna, DU’s partnership co-chair.  “A coming together of two organizations who share such a close passion for conservation, working rice lands and the issues facing rice farmers throughout the nation is a testament to what can be accomplished when two groups have such closely combined goals.  We will continue to further those goals, together, to benefit not only waterfowl and wildlife, but hunters and citizens alike.”

Many wildlife species rely on the habitat created by rice farmers, making rice a unique working-lands crop. Winter-flooded rice fields lying along critical flyways provide food and cover resources that are vital resting and foraging habitat for migratory and wintering waterfowl. In 2012, the American rice industry planted approximately 2.7 million acres of rice, according to the USDA.

The Rice Foundation, a separate rice-industry organization dedicated to industry-related research, sponsored a DU project to estimate the biological and economic contributions that rice fields make in support of North American waterfowl populations. DU's Dr. Mark Petrie is conducting the research, which is scheduled for completion this year.

The USA Rice Federation is the global advocate for all segments of the U.S. rice industry, with a mission to promote and protect the interests of producers, millers, merchants and allied businesses. More than 128,000 jobs are supported directly and indirectly by rice production and related segments. Rice production contributes more than $17.6 billion to U.S. wages, salaries and profits and is also responsible for more than $34 billion in economic activity nationally.