BISMARCK (AP) - A program in the Dakotas to boost winter wheat acres to benefit duck production is growing in both scope and geography.
Ducks Unlimited and the Bayer CropScience company are launching a multimillion-dollar effort to increase the amount of winter wheat on the North American prairie. That includes the Upper Great Plains of the United States and Canada's prairie provinces - Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Winter wheat is seeded in the fall, which means less field disturbance in the spring when ducks are nesting. Ducks Unlimited says its research in Canada has found that the density of hatched nests in winter wheat fields is 24 times greater than it is in spring wheat fields, which are planted in the spring.
''We recognize winter wheat is an excellent crop that provides economic advantages to growers ... while also enhancing waterfowl and other wildlife habitats,'' said Bill Buckner, who heads crop protection programs in the U.S. and Canada for Bayer CropScience. The company is providing $20 million over five years for the program.
In North Dakota and South Dakota, a winter wheat incentive program started by Ducks Unlimited in 2000 has involved about 200 farmers in nine counties, said Blake Vander Vorst, a regional agronomist for the Ducks Unlimited Great Plains regional office in Bismarck.
Initially, Ducks Unlimited used grant money to pay farmers to grow winter wheat under three-year contracts. When the grant money ran out in 2005, Ducks Unlimited teamed up with Bayer CropScience on a five-year, $500,000 deal that reimbursed farmers for the cost of Bayer CropScience chemicals they use on their winter wheat crops.
Vander Vorst said the new program, which also will include Minnesota and possibly Montana at a later point, will focus more on research involving such things as new wheat varieties, education and technical support for farmers than on grower incentives. Work will be done by Ducks Unlimited staff and officials at universities and private research firms, he said.
Bayer CropScience, which provides chemicals to farmers, will benefit in the long run because the program will make farming more sustainable, said Derrick Rozdeba, a company spokesman. ''It's basically a stewardship model,'' he said.
The new program is a direct outgrowth of the effort in the Dakotas, Vander Vorst said.