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Ducks Unlimited purchased the Interseeder drill last year with a grant from First National Bank of Omaha to donate to the Beadle Conservation District for landowners to use to plant cover crops. The drill donation was part of a partnership with the conservation district to promote cover crops and support conservation on agricultural lands in Beadle County. (Photo by Ducks Unlimited).

Ducks Unlimited invests in local environment

A joint effort between Ducks Unlimited, South Dakota State University, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the Natural Resources Conservation Service is helping farmers create a better habitat for wildlife in eastern South Dakota.

Ducks Unlimited South Dakota manager of conservation programs, Steve Donovan, is involved in creating the programs with the NRCS.

"These initiatives started with the recognition that new soil health and sustainable farming practices seem to have a lot of upside for wildlife," Donovan says.

Initiatives including promoting the use of cover crops and improving soil health.

According to Donovan, the vast majority of ducks in North America, 50 to 70 percent, come out of the prairie pothole region. This region consists of eastern South Dakota and North Dakota, and up into Canada. The majority of this land is privately owned and in agricultural production.

"We're trying to figure out how to raise ducks and continue feeding the world," Donovan says.

Maintaining wetlands and pasture is important to wildlife, which works well with beef production in the region.

"We know ducks and wildlife can work well with beef," Donovan says. "It can work with cropland, too. Now we're trying to find ways to promote grains and cover crops that provide nesting cover for ducks, pheasants and other birds and wildlife."

Last year, 26 landowners signed up to participate.

Ducks Unlimited is currently working on a final agreement with the NRCS. They hope to have a sign up as early as this summer, with producers signing a contract early in the fall.

While there are not a lot of details yet available, producers will be able to stop at the local NRCS office when the initiative is finalized. The programs will be available in most conservation districts in eastern South Dakota.

This initiative would provide producers with a financial incentive, as well as the other benefits the program would bring to the land.

The benefits of these programs are widespread, according to Donovan: "As a duck biologist, I tend to focus more on the wildlife benefits, but it is advantageous to producers as well."

Benefits to wildlife include less soil erosion, which may have a long term impact on wetland basins, and more nesting cover. Producers will see benefits such as an increased amount of organic matter, better water infiltration, and improved weed and pest control.

Dwayne Beck, manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, further explained what benefits producers may see. He claims the biggest benefit of cover crops is to help create more natural water cycles and nutrient cycles which will help catch nutrients that would normally go away.

Soil structure, organic matter and water holding capacity also will be improved. It can help to cycle out diseases, such as white mold, and will compete with weeds, creating less need for herbicides.

"There's a lot of reasons producers should be using a cover crop, not just because it's the cool thing to do now," Beck says.

Beck also says it is important to choose the right cover crop for the time and place. If done wrong, it can also have a detrimental effect on the land.

These initiatives are still being planned and finalized, but are expected to be available to producers this year.