Rice farms receive federal help to provide waterbird habitat

With habitat for California waterbirds drying up, conservation groups and rice farmers are collaborating to flood fields and enhance waterbird habitat on roughly 550,000 acres of California’s rice fields.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is contributing $7 million, matched by partner agencies, for helping share farmers’ costs of implementing new practices that align rice growing with waterbird needs.

“The idea behind the program is to provide the incentive for people to adopt new things and then do it on their own even without the payment,” program manager Alan Forkey said.

Rice farmers will receive from $5 to over $100 per acre for their participation, depending on factors such as field location and soil type.

“We saw the response of the birds, and the rice industry has decided to invest significantly,” says Paul Buttner, environmental affairs manager with the California Rice Commission, which represents about 2,500 rice farmers and handlers in the state. The vast majority of California rice is grown in the Central Valley, generating more than $5 billion for the state’s economy.