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Workshop on beneficial birds Tim Hearden
Grain growers attend a workshop on beneficial birds near Winters, Calif., in 2019.

Habitat program shows growers' sustainability

Valley growers working with California Waterfowl to preserve duck populations

During my travels as a reporter covering agriculture, I often hear it said the farmers were the original environmentalists, or that they’re the best conservationists.

One program that growers are undertaking with the group California Waterfowl would serve to prove the point.

As reported by Caroline Brady, the organization’s waterfowl programs supervisor, the group has introduced a Delayed Wheat Harvest Incentive Program, which will pay farmers $30 to $40 per acre to delay wheat or triticale harvest until July 1-15 to save migratory ducks. Payments are to help offset costs associated with harvesting later.

“Farmers have been some of the best allies waterfowl have in this state, and we’re excited to create an opportunity for farmers to help boost our local mallard population,” Brady wrote in an essay on the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources website. Mark Lundy, an assistant extension specialist for the UC, is listed as a coauthor.

As the two explain, the waterfowl group seeks to make best use of the Central Valley’s remaining wheat and triticale fields after poor market prices have caused a decline in the winter grains acreages that are attractive to nesting ducks.

Winter grains are seeded in the fall and grow throughout the winter, so by nesting season a dense stand of grains near a planted rice field makes a great place for nesting and brooding, they observe.

Winter grains in rice country provide much higher mallard nest densities and survival rates than anything in the Prairie Pothole Region, but the mallard population has been declining along with the acreage, Brady and Lundy point out.

To save as much of the bird population as possible, California Waterfowl has been working with growers of summer grains to operate an Egg Salvage Program to rescue nests in fields before field work or harvest, the two note. Nests are delivered to a hatchery, which incubates the eggs and rears the ducklings for five weeks before releasing them into the wild.

“But the very best thing is for ducklings to be reared by their mothers,” and hence the delay in harvests, the two authors explain. To apply for the incentive, donate to the program and learn more, please visit: www.calwaterfowl.org/wheat/.

The program comes as just about all California growers and their commodity groups are embracing sustainability, and many are making use of wild birds to assist with pest control and reduce their need for chemical pesticides.

Rachael Long, a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, has been doing extensive research into the benefits of incorporating bird habitat into farming. In a recent workshop, she pointed to the rice industry as a “success story” in becoming a stop for birds in the Pacific Flyway and noted that birds help with gopher control in alfalfa fields. They can also help control codling moth in walnuts, she said.

“As we get a decline in overall natural habitat, bird numbers go down, but they are going up in ag lands,” she said.

Thanks to the original environmentalists.

TAGS: Conservation
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