The significance of rice agriculture to Ducks Unlimited's conservation mission led us to form the Rice Stewardship Partnership (RSP) with USA Rice in 2013. Designed to conserve three critical natural resources in the US, working ricelands, water and wildlife, the Partnership has impacted more than 700,000 acres across more than 900 farms in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and California. Conservation stewardship programs, such as the RSP, create collaborative partnerships and working relationships among private landowners, conservation organizations and public land management agencies designed to conserve critical natural resources. While various factors influence enrollment in stewardship programs, financial assistance or payments to enrollees for adopting desired conservation practices is a common incentive. Financial incentives such as payments for ecosystem services programs are often used to promote enrollment and participation. However, these programs are not designed nor funded to provide indefinite payments to enrollees. Financial incentives are often initial and temporary. Afterwards, re-enrollment and continuation of practices rely on alternative, non-monetary incentives and/or voluntary participation. Thus, it is important for conservation professionals and those designing these programs to understand and explain how and why individuals choose to enroll or decline and, after an initial or preliminary period of financial payments or assistance ends, choose to re-enroll or not and continue behaviors or not.

To address this fundamental question, Ducks Unlimited, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Arkansas- Monticello and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, initiated a graduate study to evaluate retention and persistence in the RSP operating in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

To gauge retention and persistence dynamics, our initial research objectives include describing producers pre- and post-contract decision-making related to enrollment, retention and persistence; assessing the importance and influence of economic and social incentives; evaluating conservation practices and persistence post-contract; assessing producers perceptions of conservation practices in relation to sustainability and program goals and characterizing individual, social, institutional and environmental factors associated with describing and predicting retention and persistence.

Since the goal for conservation programs within the RSP is to create a long-term change in behavior, this information will help uncover what practices are most sustainable and potentially what qualities in landowners make them more disposed to persistence.

For more information on this study or any of the Southern Regions science and planning programs contact Dr. Dale James, Director of Conservation Planning,