Ducks Unlimited will begin evaluating strategies to increase nesting habitat on South Dakotas working croplands. Rotating supplemental cover crops with standard cash crops has rapidly expanded across the Prairie Pothole landscape. In conjunction with minimal tillage practices, cover crops provide waterfowl nesting habitat, improve soil health, reduce erosion and runoff, and increase infiltration from precipitation.

Many cover crop mixes include annual grasses like cereal rye that produce vegetative cover in late spring. This dense, early green-up grass is attractive to upland nesting waterfowl like mallards and pintails. Depending on the timing and disturbances created by the planting process, these row-crop acres, traditionally devoid of nesting habitat, could attract and support nesting ducks.

In partnership with South Dakota State University (SDSU) and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, DU will study nest survival in cover crop fields. Ducks Unlimited provided financial incentives to 24 agricultural producers across eastern South Dakota to introduce cover cropping practices that include planting cereal rye and practicing minimal tillage.

A graduate student at SDSU will locate and monitor duck nests in cover crops and adjacent habitat throughout the nesting season. Part of the funding for the project is provided by a $75,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from the South Dakota Natural Resource Conservation Service. This grant will be distributed over a three-year period and DU is seeking additional funding sources.