• Rice, Ducks, and Friends Awarded $15 Million in 2017 RCPP Funding

    by Michael Klein | Dec 21, 2016
    Planning on putting it to good use
    GA-Rice, Ducks, and Friends Take a $X Million-Sweep of 2017 RCPP Funding-161221

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced the list of 80+ projects to be funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for 2017.

    USA Rice, through its USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership, was awarded funding for two projects bringing $15 million to the Mid-South and Gulf Coast’s rice-growing regions. The NRCS funds, along with $15+ million in financial and in-kind support of 45 companies and organizations, will help producers implement a variety of conservation practices on their operations through the NRCS-led Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and supplement a reservoir construction for irrigation water in Texas.

    USA Rice took the lead for the Mid-South Graduated Water Stewardship Program, which was awarded $7 million to be used for rice-specific EQIP and CSP contracts in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Central and Northeast Louisiana. The second project, is led by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), and was awarded $8 million to supplement the building of a conservation reservoir in Eagle Lake, Texas to provide water for irrigation and flooded water bird habitat across 50,000 acres of ricelands and includes a small amount set aside for CSP contracts for Texas rice farmers.

    USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited currently deploy more than 15 field staff to work on rice conservation projects, namely the implementation of the 2015 RCPP project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, across all six major rice-growing states. The Partnership is in the process of completing the $10 million-project with hundreds of rice farmers expected to sign EQIP and CSP contracts throughout the three-year life of its funding.

    Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the Rice Stewardship Partnership, Jeff Durand, shared his obvious excitement about the announcement, “The notification that our proposals were awarded is just thrilling, the news of this funding could really not have come at a better time,” he emphasized. “As producers we’re dealing with an ongoing streak of low commodity prices and luckily, the wide suite of practices available through EQIP and CSP will, in most cases, improve our bottom lines and add to our overall sustainability as an industry.”

    USA Rice President and CEO, Betsy Ward, was equally pleased, “We’re proud of our continued, strong relationship with Ducks Unlimited, LCRA, and NRCS as well as our many other contributing partners on these RCPP projects,” she said.

    These sentiments were echoed by outgoing NRCS Chief Jason Weller at the USA Rice Outlook Conference earlier this month when he said, “I am so proud of the partnership NRCS has with the rice industry…for your commitment to being partners with us to invest in conservation and really be national leaders in production agriculture….I commend the rice industry for your leadership and your partnership through our programs and standing up for what’s right for farmers, for families, for rural communities, but also what’s right for American conservation.”

    “Rice and ducks have a unique relationship, they play vital roles in the ecosystems throughout the U.S. and we fully embrace the motto ‘what’s good for rice is good for ducks.’ And so it comes as no surprise to us that our Partnership’s proven success will be bringing record levels of conservation funding solely to rice farmers over the next couple of years as the projects are implemented,” Ward added.

    The success of the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership would not be possible without the help from financial and in-kind partners. Rice Stewardship financial contributors include the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart Foundation, the Mosaic Company Foundation, Chevron U.S.A., Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, RiceTec, BASF, American Rice, Inc. - Riviana Foods, Inc., Delta Plastics, Wells Fargo, Farmers Rice Milling Company, Horizon Ag, Turner's Creek & Bombay Hook Farms, MacDon Industries, Dow AgroSciences, and other major Ducks Unlimited sponsors.

  • Arkansas NRCS Ups the EQIP Ante

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 13, 2016
    NRCS' Mike Sullivan (blue hat) and Mark Isbell (far right)
    NRCS Mike Sullivan and Mark Isbell
    HUMNOKE, AR – This morning, farmers and conservation industry representatives held a press conference here at Isbell Farms to announce the immediate availability of $2.5 million in additional funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in Arkansas.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) delivered the positive news and will accept and manage the incoming EQIP applications.  NRCS said they will prioritize applications that address three objectives:  improved soil health, nitrogen stewardship, and irrigation water management.  

    Irrigation water management is particularly important to rice farmers in improving energy efficiency, soil and water quality, sustaining wildlife habitat, and addressing the growing issue of water quantity.  Earlier this year, the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership provided more than $2.2 million in EQIP funding through their NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, Sustaining the Future of Rice with a complimentary focus on irrigation water management practices.  More than 330 EQIP applications were submitted by rice farmers across the state through the USA Rice project showing a significant demand for voluntary, incentive-based conservation financial assistance.

    Mike Sullivan, the NRCS state conservationist for Arkansas, kicked off the press conference and turned the mic over to producers, Robby Bevis and Mark Isbell to discuss soil health and irrigation water management work they’re doing on their own operations.  USDA staff, Dr. Michele Reba and John Lee, representing the Agricultural Research Service and NRCS in Arkansas also provided commentary on greenhouse gas production in rice fields and nitrogen stewardship, respectively.

    Sullivan said, “With the extra funding Arkansas has been given for this EQIP, we are focusing on three areas, soil health, nutrient management, and specifically for rice producers, intermittent flooding, also known as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD).  We consider AWD a win-win situation - it reduces costs on the production side, uses less water, less energy, and also reduces methane emissions.”
     
    Of the work being done on his operation, Isbell said, “U.S. rice production has been on the forefront of private land conservation for decades.  We believe that the Alternate Wetting and Drying strategy will play a key role as that story continues to be written.”

    Arkansas NRCS is urging farmers to visit their local USDA NRCS field service center to submit EQIP applications no later than June 10, 2016 to be considered for the additional allocation. USA Rice is encouraging Arkansas rice farmers with applications not funded through the RCPP EQIP sign-up to consider resubmitting their request through this unique opportunity.
  • NRCS EQIP(s) Farmers with Conservation Financial Assistance Options

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 12, 2016
    Jim Whitaker
    Jim-Whitaker
    WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) checked off another program on their to-do list by publishing the final version of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in the Federal Register.

    EQIP is a voluntary program implemented by NRCS that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers to plan and implement resource-targeted conservation practices on working lands.  Rice farmers utilize more than 50 EQIP practices across the six rice-growing states, ranging from land forming and leveling to construction of irrigation ditches and drains.  A full listing can be found on the USA Rice website.

    The slight modifications to EQIP were based on instructions laid out by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.  The EQIP Interim Rule was published in December 2014 and received more than 330 comments from stakeholders with compliments or suggestions to improve the program.

    Notable changes to the program include:  the absorption of the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) which requires five percent of total EQIP funds to be allocated toward wildlife priorities, the inclusion of EQIP in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and seven percent of annual EQIP funds directed to be used in the RCPP, and provisions added to target veteran farmers and other historically underserved NRCS customers.

    “EQIP is one of the most important tools in the conservation tool box for rice farmers and unfortunately it’s being underutilized.  There’s a lot of practices included that are critical to improving our soil and water quality, irrigation efficiency, etc., that help us work with NRCS to become better stewards of our land,” said Jim Whitaker, Arkansas rice farmer and USA Rice Farmers Conservation Committee member.

    Whitaker continued, “The updated program is essentially the same as in the past with the exception of the portion dedicated to wildlife habitat-related practices.  The most important thing we can do as rice farmers is conserve water and protect waterfowl.  It's very simple to me, water and waterfowl go hand-in-hand so I see this new provision as the cherry on top of an already great program.”

    The Rice Stewardship Partnership, managed by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited is in the process of finalizing more than 200 EQIP contracts with rice farmers across all six rice-growing states through their RCPP project, Sustaining the Future of Rice.  

  • Skyrocketing Support for RCPP in Missouri

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 30, 2015
    Blake Gerard
    Blake Gerard
    COLUMBIA, MO – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, recently received further affirmation of its popularity among growers when the November 20 EQIP application deadline for Louisiana and Missouri saw more than 260 applications submitted across 63,800 acres for Missouri alone!  

    The project is sponsored by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited through their Rice Stewardship Partnership, along with more than forty supporting partners.  Covering the six major rice-growing states, the project has been dubbed the “National Rice RCPP project,” funding approximately $10 million worth of conservation improvements on ricelands using the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

    Project implementation began earlier this fall with more than 300 EQIP applications collected in Arkansas and Mississippi.  The tremendous turnout in Missouri applications comes following the first Rice Conservation Field Day in Portageville earlier this month.

    Blake Gerard, Missouri rice farmer and chairman of USA Rice Farmers, said, “The application numbers are overwhelming.  Although everything can’t be funded, I think it speaks volumes about the demand for conservation funding to see hundreds of applications come out of only seven counties in our state.”

    Gerard added, “Rice farmers in Missouri are looking forward to working with USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited throughout the coming years to continue funding these environmentally and economically beneficial projects on their operations.”

    An EQIP application period for California and Texas will be announced later this winter.  The planning process is currently underway and applications for CSP will be announced in late 2016.
  • In Arkansas and Mississippi, EQIP Aplenty

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 06, 2015
    Well EQIP-ed
    Combine in Mud
    ARLINGTON, VA – USA Rice along with Ducks Unlimited and more than 40 other partners are celebrating their most recent milestone as part of the Sustaining the Future of Rice project and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), one of two programs utilized by the project, collected a total of 334 applications when the sign-up period closed last month in Arkansas and Mississippi.  

    The other conservation program used within the project is the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

    The project includes implementation of conservation practices on working ricelands in the six primary rice-growing states using a $10 million investment from the NRCS and $6.8 million in private funds.

    USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely said, “These numbers have far exceeded our expectations and we’re confident that with a deep pool of applicants in both states we’ll be able to fund projects on the most environmentally sensitive rice-growing acres for the most effective results possible.”

    Applicants selected in this round of funding will be notified in early 2016 so they can begin implementing practices immediately.  

    The EQIP sign-up period for Louisiana and Missouri is open until Friday, November 20.  Sign-up in California and Texas is anticipated to begin later this winter and CSP sign-ups in all six states will happen late in 2016.

    Farmers in Louisiana and Missouri interested in learning more about EQIP and submitting an application should consult their local county or parish NRCS offices prior to the submission deadline.
  • One Month Left for EQIP Sign-up in Louisiana and Missouri

    by Deborah Willenborg | Oct 22, 2015
    MO rice puts on a show
    MO-rice-field
    WASHINGTON, DC – Rice farmers in Louisiana and Missouri have less than one month to submit applications for the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  This EQIP sign-up period, specifically designated for farmers who regularly grow rice, is part of the USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project.  Applications should be submitted to local NRCS field offices no later than November 20, 2015.

    Special EQIP funding is available in the following Missouri counties:  Bollinger, Butler, Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Ripley, Scott, and Stoddard.

    In Louisiana, funding is available in the following parishes:  Acadia, Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Evangeline, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Madison, Morehouse, Rapides, Richland, St. Landry, St. Martin, Vermilion, and West Carroll.

    “The main goal is to provide winter wetland habitat, while also considering groundwater demand from aquifers in rice production areas to ensure sustainability of that water source for future rice production,” DU Director of Conservation Innovation Scott Manley said.

    USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward added, “EQIP sign-ups in Arkansas and Mississippi ended last week and we were pleased to hear the number of applications was through the roof.  We will be announcing the applications that will receive funding in the next few months.”

    The EQIP sign-up period in California and Texas will be announced later this year.