For Ducks Unlimited conservation of working lands is motivated by two objectives: to preserve crucial wildlife habitats as well as to support working ranches and farms on highly-valued landscapes. Its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) has proved to be a great vehicle to allow DU to achieve both goals. The program was created in the 2013 Farm Bill, RCPP is run by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is described as an “partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on agricultural land.”
The GA Ducks Unlimited grants funds to projects identified by the agency as being managed by skilled partners who show the capability to make use of RCPP funding; the ability to manage projects and analyze results; and a commitment to effectively engage and support farmers and ranchers who want to implement innovative conservation strategies or technology that are in line with their objectives.
As a major participant in many GA Ducks Unlimited project, DU is well versed in satisfying these requirements from beginning to end. DU field staff meets directly with ranchers and farmers to discuss the different conservation methods offered by RCPP and assist producers in selecting choices that make the most suitable for their business. DU assists them in applying to be included in this program (a procedure that is extremely complicated) and sign contracts with NRCS after approval. Additionally, DU provides financial and technical assistance to landowners adopt conservation practices on their landscapes and measure their progress in the future.
A variety of RCPP projects have been completed under the aegis of the America Rice-Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership, a partnership that concentrates on the preservation of working rice land, water resources and wetland wildlife in six states with a high rate of rice production. The partnership has raised over $110 million for projects that affect over 830,000 acres. RCPP has been the key to the success of this project, according to Professor Dr. Scott Manley, director of support for agriculture in the DU’s Southern Region. “RCPP has brought together supply chain partners across the rice industry–from the person who grows it to the person who consumes it and everybody in between. It’s given us more holistic conservation projects that promote the most effective local solutions.”
Manley declares that GA Ducks Unlimited says that the Nutrient Management as well as the Gulf Coast Rice Production Project that helps rice farmers in southwest Louisiana deal with the deficiencies in nutrient levels in sandy soils in the coast, provides a great illustration of the RCPP’s positive impact. The project was initially established in 2017 by the RCPP, this initiative was renewed to a new phase in 2019 because of its popularity and effectiveness. The partnership will be awarded $1.2 million in funds, affecting more than 50,000 acres and help 70+ rice farmers with managing nutrient levels. It is the Mosaic Company, which has offered matching funds and knowledge as the largest producer in North America of fertilizer phosphate and potash and phosphate fertilizer, played a major contribution in making this happen.
Manley states that it’s encouraging to know that nearly all of the farmers who took part in the initial part of GA Ducks Unlimited project have plans to implement the nutrient management techniques they learned and possibly expand them on the remainder of the farms they operate. This is good news for the mission of DU. “If you want the farmers of the Gulf Coast to grow rice that provides vital sources of food and habitat for waterfowl to ensure that they are successful in it. This is exactly what this RCPP project is doing. “Soil well-being is the main focus of an additional RCPP project that is in operation in the prairies of South Dakota, North Dakota as well as Montana. In September of 2020, NRCS announced an $8.7 million grant for DU in this Scaling soil health in the Prairie Pothole Region project. Further contributions by 20 partners across three states increased the total investment by $17 million. South Dakota is currently in its second year of applications while North Dakota is in the first year of application and Montana is in the process of finalizing NRCS agreement negotiations. DU along with its partner organizations assist producers and ranchers to improve their soil health by decreasing soil disturbance, diversifying their cropping methods, restoring grasslands and wetlands, and building the infrastructure necessary for the implementation of rotational grazing. DU regional agronomist Brian Chatham has already received positive feedback from the producers who have noticed positive outcomes like better livestock, less costs for fertilizer, and greater yields on crops. He hopes that the positive results will encourage producers to continue healthy soil practices that are regenerative even after the contract ends.