Sacramento Valley farmers are asked: Help the ducks

Farmers in the Sacramento Valley are being asked to lend a hand to migrating waterfowl arriving this winter to a drought-parched landscape.

Valley rice farmers normally flood about 300,000 acres after harvest to decompose the leftover rice straw. This flooded land then becomes vital habitat for ducks and geese.

But the California Rice Commission estimated earlier this year that only about 50,000 acres of rice fields would be flooded due to the drought. As a result, millions of birds traveling the Pacific Flyway this winter will find a hard time finding habitat.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is hoping to improve that picture by offering farmers an incentive to flood land. Farmers who have water available and are willing to flood their land until at least Feb. 1 will be paid an estimated $53 per acre, said David Sanden, a spokesman for the agency.

The goal is to offset some of a farmer’s costs to provide the water and set aside their land to benefit waterfowl. The agency hopes to create 10,000 acres of shallow water wetlands in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

“If we didn’t do anything, a lot of the fields would be dry and there wouldn’t be good habitat for all these birds that are coming,” Sanden said. “We’re not asking people to try and find water that isn’t there. But if they do have the water, it does have a lot of benefits.”

The deadline to apply for the program is Nov. 7. Farmers interested in participating should contact their local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Call The Bee’s Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser.