Ducks and rice have been inextricably linked since long before the first settlers laid eyes on the Sacramento Valley more than 150 years ago. And as far as California rice farmer and longtime DU supporter Al Montna is concerned, that bond will remain strong for generations to come.
"Profit, people, and planet have been the backbone of our farming ethic since we started," Al said. "You have to look at the whole: run a sound business and you can do conservation and help people."
Al has been involved with Ducks Unlimited since the 1960s. "I have been hunting my entire life, particularly waterfowl, so supporting DU just seemed natural," he explained. When he graduated college, building his farming business took him away from the organization, but in the 1980s, DU biologists got him involved again with the Rice Roller project. "It all started with the Rice Roller," Al recalled. "Rolling the stubble let us stop the burning we did every year."
An end to burning meant important food and habitat were left for the thousands of migrating waterfowl that visit California's Central Valley each year. "Water, rolling, and ducks help us clear the field for next year's production," Al explained. "We see waterfowl as a partner, so if this change in our farming practices benefited them, it also benefited us."
Rice is a major food source for people, waterfowl, and other wildlife across the country, and Al doesn't want to see us lose another acre. This strong belief in the connections between farming, the people it helps feed, and the opportunity to improve habitat for waterfowl is what got him involved in creating the USA Rice-DU Stewardship Partnership, on which he serves as co-chair.
This important partnership will serve as a model of cooperation and communication between a farm group and a conservation organization. It will address rice production, waterfowl and water conservation projects, and programs and policies that are mutually beneficial to the two organizations and to society.
"The partnership we've formed with USA Rice is one that will benefit not only waterfowl and other wildlife, but also rice producers, hunters, and American citizens alike," Al said. "We will work together and build upon our common interests and challenges to sustain waterfowl and rice production on the landscape."
Al's influence on the next generation of rice growers is already well underway with his daughters, Nicole Montna Van Vleck and Michelle Montna Vogt, who are involved on the farm as well as with legislative groups for rice and water. Nicole caught the hunting bug and, along with her children, Christian and Tori, heads afield with Al each year. Nicole and Michelle believe, as their father does, that if you "maintain production, you will maintain the birds."
Al and his wife, Gail, are DU Benefactor Sponsors and President's Council members, and Al serves on DU's Conservation Programs Committee. "You have to give back a lot more than you take to enjoy this glorious resource," Al said. "People have a choice, and I know DU puts its resources on the ground. This is one organization that has few peers."
Al's story was featured in the 2013 Ducks Unlimited Annual Report. If you would like to learn more about supporting DU's California Wetlands Initiative, please visit www.ducks.org/CaliforniaWetlands or call DU at (916) 852-2000 to speak with fundraising staff in your area.
For more information on becoming a DU Major Sponsor, please visit our Leadership Giving homepage or contact Senior Manager of Development Operations Anita Tyler at (901) 758-3871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.