• Arkansas Rice Farmers Manage for Ducks and Rice

    by Deborah Willenborg | Mar 22, 2017
    Ryan and Mike Sullivan pulling boards and
    draining fields after completing waterfowl
    flooding practices for the RCPP.
    Photo credit: Bob Young
    Sullivans-Pulling-Boards,-Burdette-AR
    Special to the USA Rice Daily from Ducks Unlimited

    BURDETTE, AR -- Mike Sullivan, who farms with his son, Ryan, in northeast Arkansas, is one of the rice producers working with USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited through the Rice Stewardship Partnership.  

    The Sullivans have participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and as part of their participation, the Sullivans flooded fields in the winter to provide habitat for waterfowl and improve water quality.  By putting boards in their water control structures in October, they captured rainfall over the winter.  That gives the sediments and nutrients in the water time to settle out before running off of the field.  When they pulled their boards to drain the fields in February, much cleaner water ran off.  In the meantime, they had tremendous use by waterfowl.  

    “I've never seen ducks east of Interstate 55 before,” Mike said.  He was skeptical about attracting ducks in that area of the county, but he was excited to call Ryan one day and tell him that a field near the home place was covered up with ducks.  

    “The public has noticed that more ducks are in the county, too,” Mike said.  Mike has people asking about his flooded fields and commenting on seeing all the ducks.  The type of water control structures called weir boxes make all the difference.  “The system that works for rice farming also works great for waterfowl,” Mike said.  

    Ryan has always been interested in conservation.  He told his dad for years they didn’t have ducks because they didn’t hold water on the fields.  He observed other areas of the county that had ducks where fields had been flooded.  “Ryan has been doing waterfowl management on a small scale, but the RCPP has allowed him to do this on a wider scale,” Mike said.  

    “I’m really appreciative of the way the DU, USA Rice, and NRCS have partnered to make this program so successful and how easy it has been to work with all the partners,” Mike said.  Mike believes he has also benefitted from working with researchers with the University of Arkansas and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at nearby Arkansas State University.  

    “We’ve pretty well turned over 1,500 to 2,000 acres of our rice farming operation for research to Dr. Michele Reba and Dr. Joe Massey at the ARS Delta Water Management Research Unit located on campus at Arkansas State,” he said.  “They’re taking small-scale research to a whole-farm approach.  Dr. Reba likes to refer to Ryan and me as her guinea pigs.  
    “We’re happy to cooperate because I think the key to what we’re trying to do is to be proactive instead of reactive,” he said.   “I went to the [Arkansas Soil and Water] Education Conference in Jonesboro, and they spent a whole day talking about how water is a finite resource, and we’ve got to figure out a way to do things differently than we have in the past.”  

    The Sullivans recognize that water conservation will become increasingly important in the years ahead.  

    “If we’re not in the forefront of this, cooperating with the researchers and helping them, we’re going to have problems,” Mike noted.  “I hate to think of Ryan having to deal with regulators telling him he has 20 inches of water, and he has to figure out a way to make it work.”  

    The Sullivans have also worked with alternate wetting and drying on their farm.  “It’s almost become comical with us because for years we told our employees they had to make sure they kept a flood on our rice fields.  So you can imagine the reaction when you tell them not to turn on the irrigation pump for 10 days.”
  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program: What’s New for Rice

    by Deborah Willenborg | Mar 14, 2017
    Josh Hankins
    Josh-Hankins
    Interview with USA Rice Stewardship Partnership Coordinator Josh Hankins

    USA Rice Daily: 
    What’s new in the RCPP program?

    Josh Hankins:  The 2014 Farm Bill authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create the conservation program known as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  Since its inception, the RCPP has had four rounds of funding opportunities available for public and private entities.  Acquiring this funding is a very competitive process, and to be successful requires a partnership willing to invest money, manpower, and materials in an innovative initiative to expand voluntary, private lands conservation.  

    USA Rice, through the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership, had initial success with a 2015 RCPP project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, across all six major rice-growing states.  The Partnership is in the process of completing that $10 million-project with hundreds of rice farmers expected to sign Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts throughout the three-year life of its funding.

    The most recent funding round brought in $15 million for two projects, one led by the Lower Colorado River Authority in Texas, and another led by USA Rice in the Mid-South.  Both are incentivizing the implementation of working lands conservation programs targeting ricelands and neither would have been possible without the work of the Stewardship Partnership.

    The USA Rice led program will have two application periods for funding across four states in the Mid-South.  The first will be an EQIP offering, with the application process beginning later this year.  The second will be a CSP offering, which will begin rolling out in 2018.    

    Daily:  Can you share a success story or two?
    JH:  Our programs have three core areas of focus:  water management, nutrient management, and winter habitat for wildlife.  On the water management side, participants are encouraged to actively manage irrigation water, challenging them to rethink how they’ve irrigated in the past and facilitating the adoption of new techniques - something as simple as monitoring water depth on the fields with a float, recording pump duration and flow rates, and monitoring and recording rainfall during the irrigation season.  

    In most states participating in the program, we have implemented the program for one irrigation season.  A rice farmer from Louisiana reports that the voluntary monitoring program allows him to take irrigation data he’s never had before, compare it to fuel and energy costs for moving water, and have a benchmark to improve upon for this coming irrigation season to help save money, something that would not have occurred without the voluntary program.
     
    On the wildlife habitat side, an Arkansas rice farmer captured rainfall on a field that has never been flooded during the winter months to provide migratory bird habitat, and recently sent photographs and video of the field covered in ducks all thanks to RCPP.   

    Daily:  Where will the next big farmer success story come from?

    JH:  The new irrigation technology being deployed can efficiently measure all inputs during the growing season, decrease the risk of mismanaging water and nutrients, and lower input costs and management time – but none of it has spent much time in rice fields.  Our RCPP team of field staff is helping farmers navigate the implementation of this new technology, and as more farmers adopt it, more companies will begin manufacturing it, which will lead to lower prices and more options available.  When that occurs we will start to see major changes across the Mid-South on how crops are irrigated.   Our RCPP is a much needed shot in the arm to help expedite this process.      

    Daily:  How can farmers learn about the different programs available to them?
    JH:  Your local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) field offices are vital to the success of RCPP projects.  My suggestion is get to know your local District Conservationist and the office staff; stop in and ask about their Conservation Planning services, that’s a great place to start.  They are often very familiar with the RCPP offerings in their areas, and can also help educate producers on other available programs.  Our USA Rice and DU team is another great resource.  We have worked hard to make these partnership programs a success, and that’s something rice farmers can get excited about and participate in.   

  • 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.

  • Rice Stewardship Partnership to Submit Three New RCPP Proposals

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jul 25, 2016
    An electric pump and permanent flow meter
    installed on a rice field irrigated with 100 percent surface water.
    Electric-pump-& flow-meter
    LITTLE ROCK, AR – Earlier this year, the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership jointly submitted three pre-proposals for conservation financial assistance funding through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  Last Friday, the Partnership was selected to submit final proposals by September 19 for all three projects spanning the Mid-South and the Gulf of Mexico.

    USA Rice is taking the lead on the Mid-South Graduated Water Stewardship Program focused on the Lower Mississippi River Valley region and prioritizing water quantity, water quality, wildlife habitat, climate change, and saving energy.

    “Our team in the field is really looking forward to continuing the build out of this proposal which, if funded, would greatly benefit ricelands in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, and Northeast Louisiana,” said Little Rock-based USA Rice Stewardship Partnership Coordinator Josh Hankins.  “We’re putting a lot of focus on alternative irrigation methods that help address climate change and water shortages with as much input from rice farmers as we can gather.  The practices offered through this proposal would allow rice farmers of all levels of advancement to participate, encouraging improvements in operating efficiency and conservation of natural resources through a variety of strategies.”

    The other two proposals invited to submit final RCPP proposals to NRCS are led by USA Rice partners Ducks Unlimited and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).

    The Gulf Coast Water and Wetlands Conservation proposal, led by Ducks Unlimited, focused on the Gulf region’s prairies, marshes, and bays, and will address insufficient water quantity and wildlife habitat using EQIP and CSP as conservation implementation tools.  Improvements will also be sought in water quality and energy savings by utilizing irrigation efficiencies and groundwater conservation.

    The third proposal, the LCRA Regional Conservation Partnership Program, is led by LCRA and would fund the building of a conservation reservoir in Eagle Lake, Texas.  This reservoir would help provide critically-needed irrigation water to more than 50,000 acres of ricelands and provide habitat for waterfowl and other water birds.  The project was similar to one submitted last year requesting financial assistance from the NRCS to save 20,000 acre-feet of water/year within the Lakeside Irrigation District and increase water availability during drought years to the rice industry.  Unlike the other projects, this proposal would use a smaller portion of its funding for on-farm conservation practices through EQIP.

    Collectively, the proposals will request $30 million in conservation financial assistance from NRCS with nearly the same level of funding through cash and in-kind contributions from the lead organizations and more than fifty partners.  

    The Rice Stewardship Partnership celebrated the first year of implementation of their $10 million-project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, on July 1.

  • National Rice RCPP Project Goes Live in California

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jul 20, 2016
    CA rice farmer Leo LaGrande
    Leo-LaGrande
    DAVIS, CA – Yesterday, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) rolled out the National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project here, organized and implemented by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited through their Stewardship Partnership.

    The portion of the project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, released is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) sign-up.  The practices available solely for rice farmers within the program focus on reduction of on-farm water usage and give priority to those seeking to install irrigation tailwater recovery systems and improve the efficiency of irrigation pipelines.

    California rice grower and member of the Stewardship Partnership, Leo LaGrande, said he’s “excited that the RCPP project is finally kicking off in California, there’s definitely a need here for conservation financial assistance.”

    LaGrande added, “It is common knowledge that we’re ranching out here in the West in difficult but efficient environments because of our lack of water.  That’s why it was important to us when putting together the EQIP ranking criteria that we prioritized water-saving practices to further incentivize innovative irrigation methods.”

    Rice growers are eligible to submit EQIP applications at their local NRCS offices no later than August 19 in the following counties:  Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Sutter, Tehama, Yolo, and Yuba.  To learn more about the National Rice RCPP project in California, visit the project’s state NRCS page.  

    The application period for the Conservation Stewardship Program will be announced late this fall across all six rice-growing states.

  • Rice and Ducks Propose Beefing-Up Conservation Efforts

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 10, 2016
    NRCS Chief Jason Weller (left) and Jeff Durand
    GA.w-Jason-Weller-&-Jeff-Durand-160512 
    WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited (DU) Rice Stewardship Partnership jointly submitted or supported three proposals that request funding through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

    The Rice Stewardship Partnership is looking to build off the successes that have already been accomplished through the National Rice RCPP project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, funded in 2015 across all six rice-growing states.  The existing project uses NRCS programs, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to help accomplish the goals of improving irrigation water efficiency and further improving water quality.

    USA Rice is taking the lead on the Mid-South Graduated Water Stewardship Program, focusing on water quantity, sustaining wildlife habitat, improving water quality, addressing climate change, and saving energy in the Lower Mississippi River Valley.  In addition to offering appropriate practices/enhancements for producers across the entire conservation adoption spectrum, innovations in the project offer farmers the option to enter the carbon market by adopting advanced Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) irrigation methods.

    “We’re excited about this innovative proposal that would provide EQIP and CSP funding for rice farmers of all irrigation management complexities,” said USA Rice Stewardship Partnership Coordinator Josh Hankins.  “This specific proposal would offer NRCS financial assistance to rice farmers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Northeast/Central Louisiana where rice is most heavily grown in the U.S.”

    DU headed up a proposal, the Gulf Coast Water and Wetlands Conservation project, focused on the region’s prairies, marshes, and bays that will address insufficient water quantity and wildlife habitat using EQIP and CSP as conservation implementation tools.  Improvements will also be sought in water quality and energy savings by utilizing irrigation efficiencies and groundwater conservation.

    “This Gulf-based project will be important to continue the momentum from a previously-funded rice RCPP project based solely in Southwest Louisiana,” said Louisiana rice farmer and Rice Stewardship Partnership co-chair Jeff Durand.  “Since the BP oil spill in 2010, wetland habitat and water quality has been more important than ever, and we as rice farmers have the ability to make even stronger, and more positive impacts on the quality of water that’s coming into and leaving our fields in Texas and Southwest Louisiana if this project is funded.”

    The final proposal submitted was for the Prairie Conservation Reservoir that would be built by the Lower Colorado River Authority in Eagle Lake, Texas.  This reservoir would help provide critically-needed irrigation water to more than 50,000 acres of ricelands and provide habitat for waterfowl and other water birds.  The project was submitted last year but not funded so the managing partners revised it to again push for financial assistance from the NRCS to save 20,000 acre-feet of water/year within the Lakeside Irrigation District and increase water availability during drought years to the rice industry.  Unlike the other projects, this proposal would use a smaller portion of its funding for on-farm conservation practices through EQIP.

    Each of the three project proposals have more than 20 contributing partners who have pledged close to $30 million in matching contributions which will complement the $30 million in financial assistance requested from NRCS across the five Southern rice-growing states.

    Hankins says USA Rice is looking forward to continuing the partnership with DU and other important supporters to implement voluntary, incentive-based conservation practices across hundreds of thousands of ricelands in the U.S.

    Pre-proposals that are invited to submit full proposals will be announced by USDA in July 2016.
  • New Conservation Stewardship Program Finalized

    by Lee Brinckley | Mar 10, 2016
    NRCS Chief Jason Weller (left) and Jeff Durand
    NRCS Jason-Weller-& Jeff-Durand
    WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published its final Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) rule in the Federal Register.

    The CSP was updated following the guidelines set by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill and after reviewing nearly 500 comments on the Interim Rule, the agency is finally ready to put the new rule into effect.  

    CSP is known as the USDA’s largest conservation program by acreage.  Since its inception in the 2008 Farm Bill it has provided financial assistance on more than 70 million acres of working lands.  The program has been utilized by U.S. rice farmers since it was first introduced and provides a number of enhancements that work particularly well on rice-growing operations.  

    USA Rice submitted comments to NRCS regarding the Interim Rule asking for payment equity for using existing versus new conservation practices and more transparency in the ranking process for CSP applications. The final rule did this by removing the much-criticized and complex Conservation Measurement Tool and using a public set of ranking criteria similar to the process used by EQIP.  

    Jeff Durand, Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the USA Rice Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership, shared his thoughts, “Conservation definitely comes at a cost but CSP gives us as rice farmers the opportunity to cost-share some of the expenses for implementation and maintenance of enhancements and practices that keep our industry sustainable.”

    Durand added, “Earlier this year, USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited put together the Rice Growers’ Conservation Handbook that outlines the CSP and EQIP practices that are most commonly used by rice farmers and provides some additional background information on the programs.”

    Last month, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $150 million available to enroll 10 million new acres in CSP for Fiscal Year 2016.  Applications are due to local NRCS offices by March 31. Vilsack said of the CSP, “[It is one of the most] popular programs with producers because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water, and enhancing wildlife habitat.”

    The Stewardship Partnership’s Sustaining the Future of Rice project through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will also offer the opportunity for rice farmers to sign-up for CSP later this year in all six rice-growing states.


  • Texas Now Accepting National Rice RCPP EQIP Applications

    by Lee Brinckley | Mar 01, 2016
    Ken Danklefs
    Ken Danklefs
    TEMPLE, TX – The USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited (DU) conservation and sustainability project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, takes a big step forward today with the announcement that the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Texas has begun accepting Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) applications for the project.

    The National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, funded by NRCS, was awarded $10 million in 2015 and is coordinated by USA Rice, Ducks Unlimited, and more than forty additional partners and sponsors.  

    The goal is to implement targeted conservation practices on working ricelands in all six rice-growing states using the EQIP and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  The targeted application of practices aims to address three related natural resource opportunities in rice:  water quantity, water quality, and wetland habitat.

    Texas is the fifth rice-growing state to accept EQIP applications through the Rice Stewardship Partnership’s RCPP project.

    Ken Danklefs, rice farmer and Texas representative for USA Rice on the Stewardship Partnership shared his enthusiasm, “The Stewardship Partnership is bringing Texas $1 million to be used toward implementing CSP and EQIP contracts.  Houston-based American Rice, Inc. graciously contributed an additional $50,000 to supplement USA Rice’s efforts in Texas and that support from millers says a lot about our industry.”

    Danklefs added, “I’m encouraging our rice farmers to submit EQIP applications under the National Rice project.  Water quantity is the top concern and practices such as underground pipelines on groundwater wells are high priority, followed by irrigation land levelling, water control structures, and renovation of irrigation pumping plants.  If you’re planning on doing some of these practices on your operation already or you’re on the fence about it, this is a perfect opportunity to get some help from the industry and USDA.”

    Applications will be accepted through March 18 at local NRCS offices in the following Texas counties:  Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Jackson, Jefferson, Lavaca, Liberty, Matagorda, Waller, and Wharton.

  • Slovak Oyster Supper – Eat Good and Feel Good Doing It

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 02, 2016
    Are we not men?
    From left: Josh Hankins, Dave Hare, Ray Hankins
    comm-slovak-oyster-supper-3-amigos-160202
    SLOVAK, AR -- In this small agricultural community north of Stuttgart, the annual Slovak Oyster Supper, a 50+ year tradition for many around the state, doesn’t disappoint but you’ve got to come prepared.  

    Prepared for the Slovak Oyster Supper is an empty stomach, warm coat and boots, responsible transportation, a knack for communicating with all walks of life, a glass half-full attitude, especially about standing in long, outside winter lines, and, if you plan on dining in (they also have a drive-thru), enjoying fare and fellowship without the wives or girlfriends.  This ‘men only’ gathering is the main fund raiser for the Slovak Knights of Columbus Council but also raises money for other charities and organizations in the area.  

    The Supper draws local residents, most of whom are behind the counters volunteering, city dwellers, if they are able to find tickets to the sold-out event, politicians, accountants, farmers, and a multitude of vocational backgrounds.  Though the company may be diverse, the conversation is not.  The supper typically takes place towards the end of duck season, and most are interested in sharing reports on how the season stacked up around the state, while deliberating very complex theories on why it was better or worse than years past.    

    The Supper menu consists of and is delivered in this order at the serving line:  large pile of fries, coleslaw, big gulp cup full of fried oysters, smaller cup of raw oysters, and ice cold beverages.  The oysters were fresh, and those fried were done to perfection, which is quite the feat when handling a crowd this large.

    The fried oysters were prepared using local Riceland’s own fish fry oil, which is very fitting for the event.  In the early 1900’s the introduction of rice farming to the small community of Slovak helped fuel the economic boom of the area and the rice industry has remained as the mainstay crop supporting the economic stability to this day.

    This conservation specialist did brave the lines and cold and it was worth it because once inside I not only ate well but enjoyed talking with growers about duck hunting, yes, but also conservation, tailwater recovery, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program that will mean so much to the rice farmers here and around the country.
     
    If you’ve never been to the Slovak Oyster Supper, start the conversation for tickets now, and clear the calendar on the last Friday of January, because it’s a valuable part of Arkansas history that is well worth the drive to Prairie County.
  • 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.
  • USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited RCPP Project Implementation Rolls Forward

    by Deborah Willenborg | Oct 02, 2015
    RCPP enrollment - it's time
    RCPP Sustaining the Future of Rice
    WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, “Sustaining the Future of Rice” takes another step forward in the implementation process.

    Earlier this year USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded the project $10 million in funding for the six major rice producing states.  Under the project rice farmers will have two years to enroll in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  NRCS offices in Missouri are now accepting EQIP applications from rice farmers and Louisiana NRCS will follow suit ​in coming weeks.  Applications in Missouri and Louisiana will be accepted through November 20, 2015.

    Blake Gerard, Missouri rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Farmers, said, “I’m really excited at the pace this project is moving, everything seems to be happening right on target with the overall schedule established.”  Gerard added that “installing conservation practices on our crop ground is just the right thing to do and so I urge fellow growers to take a look at their conservation plans over the next few weeks and try to find some additional practices they can add under this RCPP project.”

    Rice farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri are encouraged to submit EQIP applications as part of the “Sustaining the Future of Rice” RCPP project at their local NRCS offices. Sign-up for CSP is projected to begin in each of the six rice states late in 2016.

    To learn more about the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited RCPP project, visit here.
  • RCPP EQIP Sign-up Period Closing Soon in Arkansas and Mississippi

    by Deborah Willenborg | Sep 23, 2015
    Application form
    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There are less than four weeks left until the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) sign-up period closes in both Arkansas and Mississippi on Friday, October 16. This special EQIP sign-up is being held as part of the National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Project, led by the USA Rice – Ducks Unlimited (DU) Stewardship Partnership.

    RCPP is funded through the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The USA Rice-DU project matches private and federal funding to help pay for conservation work completed through NRCS’s EQIP and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

    USA Rice and DU were awarded $10 million in Federal funding with $6.8 million contributed by nearly 40 partner organizations and businesses earlier this year.

    Ben Mosely, USA Rice’s vice president of government affairs said, “this EQIP sign-up is focused on rice acres and farmers who regularly plant rice crops. Ranking of applications addresses three priority concerns – water quantity, water quality, and waterfowl habitat.” Mosely continued, “applications that address all three concerns will be ranked as a high priority for funding. Within the concern of water quantity, Irrigation Water Management (EQIP Practice 449) is a focal point.”

    Mosely is encouraging Arkansas and Mississippi rice farmers to get their applications in to their local NRCS offices as soon as possible to ensure they are considered for funding. A flyer outlining the project’s acceptable practices and a brief summary can be found here.


  • USA Rice-DU Stewardship Partnership Texas Reservoir Project Clears First Hurdle

    by Deborah Willenborg | Sep 10, 2015
    Working on a solution to Texas water woes
    Lane City Reservoir Project Map
    ARLINGTON, VA – The newest project sought by the USA Rice–Ducks Unlimited (DU) Rice Stewardship Partnership has cleared a major hurdle with the announcement by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that the groups’ pre-proposal has been chosen to advance to the next round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  

    USA Rice and DU have partnered with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) on the proposed $10 million project, the new Prairie Conservation Reservoir in Eagle Lake, Texas, to benefit rice growers, migratory waterfowl, and waterbirds.  The project complements an existing LCRA construction project – the Lane City Reservoir, the region’s first significant new water reservoir in decades.

    The USA Rice-DU project was selected from amongst 265 pre-proposals to advance to the full proposal stage.  Submitted pre-proposals were seeking some $1.8 billion in funding and were offering $1.27 billion in contributions.  The total funding available for this round of the RCPP projects is just $235 million, so the competition will be intense. 

  • USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Begin RCPP Project Implementation

    by Colleen Klem | Aug 07, 2015
    Application formIt's time
    WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Monday, USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited (DU) will officially kick off implementation of their Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) joint project, “Sustaining the Future of Rice”, that was announced in January 2015.


    RCPP is funded through the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The USA Rice-DU project matches private and federal funding to help pay for conservation work completed through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

    USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited were awarded $10 million in Federal funding with $6.8 million contributed by nearly 40 partner organizations and businesses.

    “Our two organizations have worked very hard over the last year-and-a-half to make sure this project is a success,” said Jeff Durand, a Louisiana rice grower and the USA Rice chairman of the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership.  “It’s important that as many rice farmers sign-up and submit applications as possible this year to make sure they get a chance to participate.”

    California rice grower and the Ducks Unlimited chairman of the partnership, Al Montna, echoed his enthusiasm for the project.

    “We cannot stress enough the close relationship between waterfowl and the rice industry and how much they need each other,” he said.  “What’s good for rice is good for ducks, and vice versa, and the RCPP is a natural fit for our vital conservation efforts.  We look forward to continuing this strong, successful partnership beyond this first project.”

    Next week’s implementation will begin with sign-ups opening for EQIP applications for ricelands in Arkansas and Mississippi. Applications will be due to local NRCS offices in qualifying counties by October 16, 2015 to be ranked and awarded funding.

    “This is a two-year project, but funding is limited and we want to ensure farmers have enough time to install the necessary EQIP practices,” said Durand.


    The other four states covered by the partnership: California, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, will begin their EQIP sign-ups later this fall. Sign-up for CSP is set to begin in each of the six rice states late in 2016.

  • Field Day Features USA Rice Presentations

    by Colleen Klem | Jul 02, 2015
     Rice farmer Ray Stoesser (l) in talks with USA Rice's Ben Mosely
    EAGLE LAKE, TX -- USA Rice staff Betsy Ward and Ben Mosely addressed Texas farmers at the dinner and program following the Eagle Lake Rice Field Day this week. 
     
    Ward gave an overview of USA Rice work on behalf of rice farmers and specifically addressed trade issues critical to the rice industry like the TPP negotiations, Iraq, China, and domestic and international promotion initiatives. 
     
    Mosely outlined USA Rice's work with Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on implementation of the farm bill, and plans to submit a pre-proposal next week for a small reservoir here as part of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  The project will be executed in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited and the Lower Colorado River Authority, among several other partners, as a way to reduce groundwater usage on rice fields and in managed waterfowl habitat.
     
    "Visiting farmers helps us develop our message to Congress and federal agencies," said Ward.  "Rice is a small commodity and our goal is to speak to policymakers and influencers with one voice so that the industry delivers a strong, clear message.  We want to keep fighting above our weight class for farmers in Texas and across the rice states."
     
    Ward and Mosely also answered questions on recent changes to farm policy and trade from members of the Texas Rice Producers' Legislative Group and the Texas Rice Producers' Board and heard from both groups about the important issues on the ground.

  • USA Rice Testifies on Implementation of Conservation Title of Farm Bill

    by User Not Found | Jun 11, 2015
    Buddy Allen (second from left) representing the rice industry.
    USA Rice Testifies on Implementation of Conservation Title of Farm Bill
    WASHINGTON, DC -- This morning the House Committee on Agriculture's Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry held a public hearing on the implementation of conservation programs in the 2014 Farm Bill. Mississippi’s Buddy Allen, a member of USA Rice Federation’s Conservation Committee, served as one of the six witnesses offering testimony.

    As a rice farmer and chairman of his local soil and water conservation district in Tunica, Allen was able to offer a unique perspective on the implementation of the farm bill’s conservation programs. Allen praised the Committee’s recognition of voluntary ag working lands conservation.

    “Working land programs not only address resource concerns, they increase productivity yielding sustainability by making cropland more diverse and efficient,” he said.  “The consolidation and streamlining of the conservation title will make these programs more efficient and easier to use for farmers and ranchers.”

    Allen also discussed the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), “Rice producers have put years of work into finding new ways to reduce erosion and water usage, and to address a number of other critical conservation priorities.  Because of the unique methods for farming rice compared to other commodity crops, sensitivity of water quantity/quality and soil stability are particularly essential to maintain operations. That being said, the RCPP is a natural fit for our industry to further augment our already impressive conservation platform.” 

    Allen and the other witnesses thanked the Members of the subcommittee for their support of the 2014 Farm Bill’s conservation title and praised the work that NRCS is doing to implement the programs. 

    Contact:  Peter Bachmann (703) 236-1475
     
  • USDA Announces $235 Million in Funding for RCPP

    by User Not Found | May 07, 2015
    Bird sanctuary
    USDA Announces 235M for RCPP
    WASHINGTON, DC -- Earlier this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced an investment of $235 million in funding to be applied towards the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, is a conservation initiative administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that enables local leaders across the country to implement programs that will preserve natural resources in their region.

    The first round of projects funded through the RCPP was announced earlier this year. USDA awarded $394 million to the first round of RCPP participants in all 50 states that helped fund 115 projects.

    The rice industry will benefit significantly from the first round of RCPP funding. RCPP grants were awarded to California and Louisiana in addition to a $10 million national grant to USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited.  

    “These funds are specifically set aside for rice producers and will be used to help them install NRCS approved conservation practices.  The initial Rice RCPP was the first time of its kind and that got attention at NRCS,” said USA Rice’s Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.

    Mosely added, “We’re in the process of implementing the first award and hope to have growers signing up late summer or early fall and we’re already working on a new proposal for the second phase of the RCPP. We plan to build on that platform of the rice industry’s commitment to on-farm management practices that address water quantity, water quality and wildlife habitat.”

    USDA plans to invest $1.2 billion in conservation projects through 2018. The deadline to submit an RCPP proposal is July 8, 2015.

    Contact:  Colleen Klemczewski (703) 236-1446