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Published February 02, 2009, 12:00 AM

Ducks Unlimited-Bayer CropScience project helps environment, farmers and habitat

MINOT, N.D. — The Ducks Unlimited-Bayer CropScience partnership is working to create interest in a $20 million project to expand winter wheat acres in the Prairie Pothole region.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

MINOT, N.D. — The Ducks Unlimited-Bayer CropScience partnership is working to create interest in a $20 million project to expand winter wheat acres in the Prairie Pothole region.

Geoff Kneen, vice president of special projects for Bayer CropScience, and Blake Vander Vorst, regional Ducks Unlimited regional agronomist, met with farmers and media to talk up the effort at the KMOT Ag Expo as it opened Jan. 28 in Minot, N.D. The two organizations have been exploring a partnership since 2002, and three years ago, Bayer CropScience started funding projects. Kneen calls it the “fruitful coexistence of profitable agriculture and environmental conservation.”

“The objective is to increase winter wheat acres in the Prairie Pothole area as a duck nesting habitat,” Kneen says. “We wanted to build on success the project has already had to develop a platform of sustainable agriculture that is a contribution to a healthy and abundant food supply. At the same time, we’re preserving a natural ecosystem and waterfowl habitat.”

Many benefits

Winter wheat has many benefits, says Vander Vorst, based in Bismarck, N.D.

Canadian research has shown a 24-fold increase in nest hatches in winter wheat vs. spring wheat or barley, he says. The reason, of course, is there is no disturbance and because seeding is done into no-till in the fall.

“The only track that goes through there is 3 (percent) to 5 percent of the area where they spray or fertilize,” Vander Vorst says.

Besides being good for waterfowl hatches, the expansion of winter wheat would bode well for water quality and for the environment as a whole.

Kneen is quick to acknowledge that more winter wheat would be good for business.

Winter wheat has been shown to yield 10 (percent) to 30 percent more than spring wheat. With a fall-seeded crop, farmers also can spread their harvest work across a greater time range.

Meanwhile, it’s good business for Bayer CropScience, he says, because some of their newest products, such as Prosaro fungicide and Huskie herbicide, will “fit well” with winter wheat production. The company’s previous product range was especially suited to spring wheat.

Funding

The $20 million will be spent over five years — $4 million a year, and half of that in each country. Some programs will be added, while one earlier program will go away.

In that effort, Bayer had committed $100,000 per year for three years, which included $85,000 to $95,000 per year for incentives for growers to plant winter wheat — up to 150 acres per year, with incentives to cover Bayer protection products.

Ducks Unlimited will seek U.S. Department of Agriculture sources to replace those funds. Specifically, DU will work to expand and fund an existing Conservation Security Program mechanism for wildlife enhancement practices — a payment of $10 an acre on winter wheat acres.

“We’re going to work with NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) to expand this to the full Prairie Pothole area,” he says. “If we can make that happen, the pool will be bigger, annually, in terms of what’s available to producers,” Vander Vorst says.

The new Bayer CropScience money will fund more agronomists at DU. Currently, there are two DU agronomists in the Prairie Pothole region. DU will add three, for a total of four in North Dakota and one in South Dakota.

“We’ll more than double our capacity to work with producers,” Vander Vorst says.

These will expand production agricultural research — one position probably will be contracted with North Dakota State University and private industry, including agricultural supply cooperatives.

Bayer CropScience will directly invest into programs to improve winter wheat breeding to create new varieties for the region. Cold-tolerance will be a high priority, but also disease resistance and protein content.

“If we’re successful, it will not only benefit the Prairie Pothole region, but with disease resistance, will benefit other areas where they grow winter wheat,” he says.

Vander Vorst says research demonstrations since 1999 have had a benefit for improving winter wheat profitability and yields in both southeast North Dakota and northwest. Most of it is involves better management.

The payoff for the new alliance probably will not become apparent for another three years or more, Vander Vorst says.