Post-harvest Field Manipulations to Conserve Waste Rice for Waterfowl

Rice seeds escaping collection by combines during harvest (hereafter, waste rice) provide quality forage for migrating and wintering waterfowl in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) and other rice growing regions in the United States. Recent sample surveys across the MAV have revealed abundance of waste rice in fields declined an average of 71% between harvest and late autumn. Thus, we evaluated the ability of common post-harvest, field-management practices to conserve waste rice for waterfowl until early winter via controlled experiments in Mississippi rice test plots in 2001 and 2003 and analyses of data from MAV-wide surveys of waste rice in rice production fields in 2000-2002. Our experiments indicated test plots with burned rice stubble that were not flooded during autumn contained more waste rice than other treatments in 2001 (P≤0.10). Waste-rice abundance in test plots did not differ among postharvest treatments in 2003 (P = 0.97). Our analyses of data from the MAV sample surveys did not detect differences in abundance of waste rice among fields burned, rolled, disked, or left in standing stubble post-harvest (P≥0.04; Bonferroni corrected critical ( a= 0.017). Because results from test-plot experiments were inconclusive, we based our primary inference regarding best post-harvest treatments on patterns of rice abundance identified from the MAV surveys and previously documented environmental and agronomic benefits of managing harvested rice fields for wintering waterfowl. Therefore, we recommend leaving standing stubble in rice fields after harvest as a preliminary beneficial management practice. We suggest future research evaluate potential of postharvest practices to conserve waste rice for waterfowl and reduce straw in production rice fields managed for wintering waterfowl throughout the MAV. Key words: agriculture, food resources, habitat management, Mississippi, Mississippi Alluvial Valley, rice, waterfowl.

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