More farmers can now reduce groundwater use thanks to a grant from the Walmart Foundation. The $1 million grant complements $6.5 million from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to support on-farm work through the USA Rice–Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership.
“We are thrilled to have continued support from the Walmart Foundation for natural resource conservation on agricultural lands in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley,” says DU Director of Conservation Programs Dr. Scott Manley. “Working lands are vital for waterfowl and other wildlife, and farmers are good stewards of the soil, water, and other resources. Helping them improve on-farm operations is critical for conservation success.”
The focus of the grant is groundwater conservation on agricultural lands in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. With nearly 10 million acres of irrigated cropland in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, irrigation withdrawals in many areas exceed recharge rates. There is growing concern across the region about falling groundwater levels. To address this concern and help farmers grow sustainable crops, DU is working with farmers, the NRCS, and other partners to convert farms to surface-water irrigation. Using surface water will reduce groundwater use and, in many cases, improve water quality after on-farm use.
“The Walmart Foundation is excited to provide support for Ducks Unlimited’s efforts to improve water conservation and nutrient management practices in agriculture,” says Karrie Denniston, senior director of sustainability for the Walmart Foundation. “This initiative will help to support farmers as they test and advance practical approaches to efficient water management, with the hope of scaling what works over time.”
DU staff will serve as the boots on the ground to provide professional advice to interested landowners. The program began in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2019 and will extend to Arkansas this year.
Funding from the Walmart Foundation will also be used to support a research study by the University of Arkansas–Monticello that examines the persistence of conservation practices after NRCS conservation contracts expire. Interviews with farmers who received financial assistance through an initial Regional Conservation Partnership Program will help the researchers understand which conservation practices are continued beyond the life of the contract. This information will be used to design future conservation programs and improve the uptake of conservation practices.
Funding for the Rice Stewardship Partnership comes from the NRCS, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart Foundation, Mosaic Company Foundation, Nestlé Purina PetCare, Chevron U.S.A., Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, RiceTec, BASF, American Rice Inc./Riviana Foods Inc., Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation, Delta Plastics, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Corteva Agriscience, Wells Fargo, Farmers Rice Milling Company, Horizon Ag-Products, Turner’s Creek and Bombay Hook Farms, MacDon Industries, Riceland Foods, and Ducks Unlimited Major Sponsors.