Walmart Foundation Awards $1M to Rice Stewardship Partnership

Emily Woodall, USA Rice

LITTLE ROCK, AR -- More farmers in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana can reduce groundwater use thanks to a new grant from the Walmart Foundation.  The $1 million dollar grant complements $6.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to support on-farm work through the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership. 

"The Walmart Foundation's continued support of the Rice Stewardship Partnership is exciting news for our rice farmers in the Mid-South," said USA Rice Director of Grower Relations & Rice Stewardship Partnership Josh Hankins.  "This generous donation will allow the Partnership to increase conservation efforts by expanding our program offerings for working ricelands." 

With nearly 10 million acres of irrigated cropland in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, irrigation withdrawals in many areas exceed recharge rates.  To address concern across the region about falling groundwater levels and to help farmers grow sustainable crops, USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited are working with farmers, the NRCS, and other partners to convert farms to surface water irrigation to reduce groundwater use and, in many cases, improve water quality after on-farm use.  

"The Walmart Foundation is excited to provide support for Ducks Unlimited's efforts to improve water conservation and nutrient management practices in agriculture," said Karrie Denniston, senior director for sustainability at the Walmart Foundation.  "This initiative will help to support farmers as they test and advance practical approaches to efficient water management, with the hope of scaling what works over time."

Rice Stewardship Partnership staff will serve as the boots-on-the-ground to provide professional advice to interested landowners.  The program will begin in Louisiana and Mississippi this year with plans to extend to Arkansas in 2020.

Walmart Foundation funding will also be used to support a research study by the University of Arkansas-Monticello examining persistence of conservation practices after NRCS conservation contracts expire.  Interviews with farmers who received financial assistance through an initial Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) will help researchers understand which conservation practices are continued beyond the life of the actual conservation contract.  This information will be used to better design future conservation programs and improve uptake of conservation practices.

Rice Stewardship funders include the USDA NRCS, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart Foundation, the Mosaic Company Foundation, Nestlé Purina PetCare, Chevron U.S.A., Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, RiceTec, BASF, American Rice, Inc. - Riviana Foods, Inc., Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation, Delta Plastics, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Corteva Agriscience, Wells Fargo, Farmers Rice Milling Company, Horizon Ag, Turner's Creek & Bombay Hook Farms, MacDon Industries, Riceland Foods, and Ducks Unlimited.