Designed for Wildlife
waterfowl, and help prepare ducks and geese for spring migration and nesting.
Missouri farmers harvested about 124,000 acres of rice in a recent year, all of it in the Bootheel. This acreage is flooded during the growing season, then drained and the rice harvested. It can be reflooded and left wet all winter, benefiting both farmer and waterfowl. If all of the Bootheel rice fields were reflooded in the fall, they would greatly increase the amount of wetlands available to wintering ducks and geese.
Rice seems an exotic product in a state where corn and soybeans are the top farm products. Rice farming has come to Missouri via the Grand Prairie of Arkansas where the summer product is rice and the winter product is duck hunting. The town of Stuttgart calls itself the "Rice and Duck Capital of the World," and some farmers make more money as a host for duck and goose hunters than they make from their crops.
Most of Missouri's rice is grown in Stoddard County in two bands of impermeable soils that fall on either side of a long sandy ridge. Missouri, because of topography and weather, is about as far north as domestic rice can be grown in the U.S.
Shallow water, waste grain and weed seeds pull in wintering ducks. Some farmers reflood these fields after harvest to provide duck hunting, then drain them after the hunting season is over. There are benefits to the farmer, however, in keeping the fields flooded until spring.
Rice farming hasn't escaped technology. Even traditional farming methods may use laser equipment to level fields before planting. After the land is leveled and rice is planted, a special plow is used to create levees 18-to 24-inches high. Water helps the rice grow, and it also keeps down weeds that would contaminate the crop.
A newer rice-growing technique has arrived in Missouri that holds even more promise for ducks and geese because it permanently floods fields. It's called zero or flat-grade rice farming. The land is leveled, as in the other method, but a permanent levee is built around it. Rice is planted on the flooded field from an airplane. The older method requires farmers to plant a crop other than rice every third year because of weed problems, but with the field permanently flooded weed problems are reduced and a crop of rice can be grown year after year.
Waterfowl play an integral role in this