Rice On The Menu For Beaver-Pond Ducks

Plant rice in beaver ponds to pull in more ducks.

Stuart Richardson | January 22, 2005

Growing rice for ducks, south Georgia style. The author and several friends planted rice in their duck holes. It’s too early to know whether the rice helps attract ducks, but they have learned that it wasn’t difficult to get a stand of rice to grow.

Last summer GON mentioned a new product by Pennington Seed Co. that targets waterfowl hunters and their need for a food-plot product. A Briefly blurb discussed the new Wildlife Rice product, and it drew quite a response from Georgia duck hunters. You might think that growing rice in Georgia is a stretch, and the return for doing so would be questionable at best. But some fellow Georgia duck hunters have already tried it, and they even got the federal government to help pay the costs.

Most of us have at least seen pictures of the vast rice fields in Arkansas. The farming practices and the soil types there make it a prime area for commercially growing rice. The ducks come in huge numbers. Georgia will never be a commercial haven for rice production, but for those of us willing to put in a little sweat equity, rice is a great option to attract and hold waterfowl.

Simply put a few feet of water on some food like corn or millet, and you can make a duck hole in Georgia. So why rice? Something to consider is the percent of seed/grain deterioration after being flooded for 90 days. Rice is at the absolute low end of the range with only about 20 percent deterioration in this time frame. Soybeans are more than 80 percent gone, Japanese millet nearly 60 percent rotted, and good old corn more than 50 percent deteriorated in 90 days. Many waterfowl plots are flooded by mid-October, and the general waterfowl season doesn’t even begin until late-November. With rice, you will still have approximately 80 percent of your food viable for waterfowl consumption in mid-January when duck season is often at its best. Even after the season, the rice will continue to provide needed nourishment to waterfowl and assist in imprinting them on your property for next season.

Jay Daniell of Tifton saw the GON brief on the rice product and decided to give it a try. Jay is a die-hard waterfowler and happens to work in research for D&PL, otherwise known in the agriculture world as Delta Pine.

“I’ve hunted ducks in a lot of places, and the food source, or lack of food, is usually the difference in success and failure,” said Jay.

One of the farms where Jay does some of his cotton research has several spots with a natural bottomland area adjacent to a large pond and untouched natural wetland.

“This farm has been a draw to waterfowl for a long time,” said Jay. “I’ve been looking for a way to improve the overall habitat beyond just resting and roosting. The rice looked like a good option, so I decided to give it a try.”

Jay’s objective was to try the rice in several spots, but with small coverage areas in each. He utilized a 4-wheeler with an electric spreader and a small drag as tools.

“The first thing I did after deciding where to try the rice was get soil samples and do some spraying for the existing grasses,” Jay said.

For purposes of comparison, the rice was broadcast on dry ground that usually floods in the winter, and also on semi-wet areas that are normally covered with water by duck season. Before planting, the rice was pre-soaked for 24 to 36 hours submerged in a trash can in a burlap sack. This was done to help initiate germination and improve planting success, as recommended by Pennington on their Wildlife Rice package.

In the dry areas, Jay had the small strips lightly disc-harrowed to break-up the top soil. Based on the soil sample analysis, Jay added a single application of DAP, a high phosphorus fertilizer. This was followed by broadcast seeding with the 4-wheeler spreader and then a light drag to work the seed into the soil. Finally, a top dress with nitrogen was added after the rice had emerged. In the event broadleaf weeds become a problem, an application of 2,4-D is usually all it takes. In hind sight, Jay feels that the dry areas could have been seeded with rice that was not pre-geminated by soaking, and he would have seen similar positive results with less preparation and work.

On the semi-wet areas the rice was broadcast using the 4-wheeler spreader and also by hand. Because the seed was pre-germinated, it could be sown in up to three inches of water. Hand spreading was utilized to keep from getting the 4-wheeler stuck repeatedly. Ninety days later the rice was up and full grown. That rice will grow in a few inches of water or on a mud flat with no soil manipulation. This will allow Georgia hunters to plant beaver swamps and other holes where they can’t break up the ground.

“Many of the planting recommendations suggest starting a rice plot in March and April, but we planted ours in the late-June to early-July timeframe, and by late-September we had a pretty good stand,” said Jay.

The rice seed-heads were full and already starting to lean toward the water.

“By the time these areas flood all the way the ducks won’t have to work very hard to get it,” Jay said.

Easy access and a high-quality, long-lasting food source are just a few of the reasons rice is a great choice for Georgia ducks.

After the initial planting efforts were completed, Jay and the landowner took advantage of the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and actually created a one-acre, diked impoundment adjacent to the big pond.

“When we got the dike built and the riser installed for water control, it really started to look like a duck plot,” Jay said.

In short, WHIP is a federal program managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides financial incentives to develop habitat for wildlife on private lands. Participants agree to implement a habitat development plan and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides cost-share assistance for the initial implementation of approved habitat-development practices. This cost sharing is available for up to 75 percent of the cost to establish management practices. This agreement typically lasts a minimum of five years from the date the contract is signed.

I spoke with the USDA NRCS agent in Tift County, Mary Leidner, about WHIP. Mary advised me that the program in Georgia will have a new enrollment period starting in the first quarter of 2005. Each applicant in a given area has their proposal assessed and ranked based on its feasibility and potential impact. Once the rank is established by the NRCS, the projects are funded until the money is exhausted. WHIP is for private landowners, it has a $5,000 cap per contract and there is no minimum or maximum on the acres required to be involved in the program. Ms. Leidner also told me that there appeared to be an increased interest in “beefing up projects on wildlife” at the federal level. A strong suggestion to anyone looking to get involved with the WHIP program was to have a wildlife-management plan in place at the time of application.

“An application that comes with a biologist-endorsed, wildlife-management plan will get priority over one that does not,” said Ms. Leidner.

All interested parties should contact their county-extension office and speak with the Farm Service Agency contact. Georgia is allotted approximately $300,000 per year for WHIP.

Rice for planting can be obtained from most any agricultural supply outlet. However, keep in mind that in Georgia, rice will most likely have to be ordered, so factor this into your timetable. Hunting over a flooded stand of rice can provide a tremendous waterfowling experience, especially if it is a long-term, established plot.

Remember, to be legal there can be no manipulation of the rice beyond normal agricultural practices. You can’t mow it down right before your hunt, as this is considered baiting. If you have questions, please call your local DNR ranger before you hunt. Finally, for those private landowners who are interested in getting financial assistance for developing the wildlife habitat on their land, WHIP just might be your ticket to get started whether it’s water-control levees for ducks in a wetland or prescribed burning for quail in a longleaf-pine ecosystem.

Food combined with a little water equals ducks. We’re not in Arkansas, but now you have a better understanding of why rice is a great choice for a waterfowl food plot in Georgia. Whether a branded wildlife product or generic rice seed is used, growing rice in Georgia can be done and done well. Get started early this year, and see if you can make your Georgia duck spot just like “a little piece of Arkansas” next season.

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