Ducks Unlimited was recently awarded a generous grant of $1 million over five years from the Irene W. and C.B Pennington Foundation in support of DU's work in coastal Louisiana. The foundation appreciates DU's 25-year history of working in Louisiana, and the significant insights this work has provided into the challenges and untapped opportunities that exist there. One such opportunity that will benefit both waterfowl and the region's economy is a stronger focus on bolstering the state's rice industry.

In the Chenier Plains of southwest Louisiana, saltwater intrusion causes freshwater marsh to die and convert to open water, threatening the existence of rice agriculture in coastal parishes. These habitats provide essential migration and wintering areas for millions of waterfowl and other migratory birds. Unfortunately, the region's rice agriculture has declined by more than 50 percent in recent decades.

Many rice farmers already know the value of combining best management practices with conservation stewardship. For these producers and others, DU will pilot a rice sustainability program offering incentives to farmers who hold water on their rice fields after the growing season ends. In addition to providing valuable waterfowl foraging habitat, holding water allows sediment and nutrients from the agricultural process to settle out before the water enters the Gulf as runoff. DU has implemented similar water-quality programs in other states and is confident this conservation technique works, but further research is needed.

With support from the Pennington Foundation, DU will hire an agriculture resource specialist to conduct the needed research on agricultural runoff, apply for additional funding from government agencies, and launch DU's Rice Sustainability Initiative in Louisiana.