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David C. Roberts, assistant professor, NDSU Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department, Published September 26 2012

Spotlight on Economics: economic drivers and anticipated trends of ND duck-nesting habitat

On average, 22,000 hunters collectively spend 209,000 hours annually hunting ducks in North Dakota. These hunters have a significant impact on our state's economy. Hunting created the equivalent of 166,000 North Dakota jobs and nearly $3.8 million in income from those jobs in 2006. Expenditures by duck hunters also created $498,000 in state tax revenue that year.

So you can see that waterfowl hunting provides huge economic benefits to both private industry and the state.

North Dakota is a part of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR). The grasslands of the PPR provide important nesting habitat for several duck species, such as mallards and pintails, and produce about 50 percent of the North American duck population. Ducks hatched in North Dakota grasslands are hunted in our and other states and Canadian provinces. Thus, the economic value of duck habitat in North Dakota and the rest of the PPR exceeds the value to North Dakota several-fold.

Federally funded programs also have produced great benefits through habitat

conservation. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays farmers to convert highly erodible cropland to natural land cover, such as perennial grasses, which are ideal duck nesting habitat. CRP enrollment in North Dakota peaked at 3.39 million acres in 2007. However, CRP land is projected to be only 2 million acres by the end of 2012.

Several economic forces are driving this reduction in duck nesting habitat, such as federal budget cuts and high crop prices. President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2013 includes cuts to the CRP, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. Long-term effects of these budget cuts on duck populations may be profound. Furthermore, high crop prices mean fewer farmers will re-enroll their land in CRP when their contracts expire, even if the opportunity is available to them.

One way to reduce these negative impacts is to find cropping systems and crops that can provide multiple benefit streams, including profits, wildlife habitat and potentially other benefits. Research indicates that cropping systems that include winter wheat can provide good duck nesting habitat while also allowing farmers to make productive (and profitable) use of their land. Fall-seeded crops, such as winter wheat, provide ground cover in early spring when ducks are selecting nesting sites.

My ongoing research with graduate student Thomas Zimmermann indicates that a four-year rotation of spring wheat, winter wheat, corn and soybeans is as

profitable as common two-year crop rotations, such as corn to soybeans or spring wheat to soybeans, while presenting very little additional financial risk to farmers.

These results are based on nine years of data from the Conservation Cropping Systems Project (CCSP) demo farm, which is funded by a number of organizations, including Ducks Unlimited (DU) and Bayer CropScience (BCS). You can learn more about the CCSP at www.notillfarm.org.

DU and BCS have a collaborative research and education venture called Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action (WCSIA). This venture works with universities, including NDSU, to develop new winter wheat varieties and management practices. More information on WCSIA is available at www.wintercereals.us.

Winter wheat genetic improvement has the potential to benefit farmers, ducks and duck hunters. Research and education provided by public-private collaborations, such as WCSIA, will go a long way toward making this happen.