Sullivan, who farms with his son, Ryan, near Burdette 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 NRCS
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for Rice Stewardship.
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.
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
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 weir boxes make all the difference. “The system that works for rice farming
also works great for waterfowl,” Mike said.
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.
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.
said he believes he has also benefitted from working with researchers with the
University of Arkansas and the USDA Agricultural Research Service at nearby
Arkansas State University.
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 I as her guinea pigs.
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.”
Sullivans recognize that water conservation will become increasingly important
in the years ahead.
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.”
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
Rice Stewardship funders 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 Ducks Unlimited major sponsors.