Ducks Unlimited has received two Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awards from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. The grants will fund the first round of projects that will help landowners improve soil health, restore and enhance grasslands and conserve wetlands. In this round, 20 projects in the James River Lowlands ecosystem will receive $750,000, while $350,000 will go to nine projects that support DUs Preserve our Prairies initiative.

"Many of the conservation practices being implemented that improve soil health, benefit agricultural producers and improve water quality also have significant benefits to wildlife, particularly waterfowl," said Brad Schmidt, DU agronomist.

DU is currently involved in research to determine the potential cover crops have for providing nesting habitat to ducks.

Soil conservation practices include diversifying crop rotations by adding small grains and cover crops. Fall-seeded cereal grains improve soil health by increasing soil carbon levels, increasing water infiltration rates and providing many other benefits. Increasing water infiltration rates and soil water storage capacity benefits producers by giving them better tools to manage water and storing water for later crop use.

"Cover crops also recycle nutrients in the soil. This happens when the crop germinates in the fall, absorbs the available nutrients in the soil and stores them over the winter. In the spring when the cover crop is killed, the nutrients are released back into the soil, making them available for the following cash crop. This allows farmers to save money by using less fertilizer, which also results in less fertilizer running off into downstream lakes and rivers," Schmidt said.

Private donations from sponsors like Dr. Jerry Moench provide the matching funds necessary for Ducks Unlimited to secure state and federal conservation grants, such as the RCPP awards funding these projects.

"It takes partnerships and financial assistance to promote soil health practices and conserve wetlands and grasslands. We are grateful to Dr. Jerry Moenchs for his pledge to the prairies," said Terry Kostinec, DU director of development in South Dakota.