August 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT4

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Environmental Stewardship Through Operation Quackback

Improving the public's perception of farmers through environmental stewardship. Parishes (counties) in South Louisiana have initiated a program which provides wetland habitat for various waterfowl; reduces red rice and other weed seeds through the foraging behavior of waterfowl; and demonstrates the farmer's concern for environmental and conservation issues. Operation Quackback began in one south Louisiana Parish in 1993 and involved eight farmers with 1500 acres in the program. The program is now conducted in 13 parishes involving 45,00 acres. The Cooperative Extension Service has been instrumental in initiating and conducting the program.

Robert F. Richard
Assistant Specialist
Program and Staff Development
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Internet address:

Howard Cormier
County Extension Agent
Vermilion Parish
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service
Abbeville, Louisiana

In the last three years, rice farmers and landowners in 13 south Louisiana parishes (counties) have improved their standing as environmental stewards among the public, thanks largely to a program called Operation Quackback.

The program began in Vermilion Parish, a coastal parish and prime wintering area for large numbers of migrating waterfowl, which is the state's largest rice producing parish with 91,860 acres in production in 1995. This situation led the local Extension staff and the local rice growers' association to combine forces for a unique program.

Operation Quackback started in 1993 as a collaborative effort of the Vermilion Parish Extension agent, the Vermilion Parish Rice Grower's Association, and the Vermilion Parish Farm Bureau. The goals were simple: 1. Provide wetland habitat for various waterfowl; 2. Reduce red rice and other weed seeds through the foraging behavior of waterfowl; and 3.Demonstrate the farmer's concern for environmental and conservation issues. The Extension agent and president of the Rice Growers Association developed a brochure explaining the program and encouraging farmers to enroll.

Vermilion Parish farmers have long held water on rice fields during winter months to provide habitat for ducks and geese. They realized that waterfowl helped remove old rice stubble, ate red rice, and provided sport for hunters. According to wildlife biologists, good habitat is the most important factor in wildlife conservation and restoration. Operation Quackback seeks to provide habitat. Farmers who hunt are encouraged to hunt mornings only so waterfowl can return and rest undisturbed in the afternoons. Operation Quackback does not limit or restrict farmers' use of their land, but does encourage balanced use for the benefit of wildlife.

Publicity includes roadside signs indicating the farmer is participating in the program. The signs are provided free-of- charge by the sponsoring organizations.

Rewards for farmers are mainly intrinsic. The program has no enforcement component. Farmers are requested only to inform the local Extension office as to how many acres they intend to enroll in the program. Landowners receive nothing for their participation other than the knowledge that they are being environmental stewards.

The program became statewide in the spring of 1995, under the sponsorship of the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center's Cooperative Extension Service, the Louisiana Rice Growers' Association, and the Louisiana Farm Bureau.

The program has grown from eight farmers in Vermilion Parish enrolling 1500 acres to 68 farmers in 13 parishes enrolling 45,000 acres in the fall of 1995. Vermilion Parish had 40 farmers enroll 14,00 acres in 1995.

In addition to the visible environmental benefits, ducks and geese help to control red rice and weeds through their foraging. They are also better prepared to make the return flight to northern breeding grounds.

The Extension Service has been an active player in the program, securing publicity, promoting the program at educational meetings, and facilitating the collaborative effort needed by involving the parish Rice Growers Association, parish Farm Bureau, as well as state and federal wildlife agencies.

Operation Quackback allows farmers involved to increase their understanding of the environmental impact of their cultural practices and at the same time show the general public and decision makers that they are indeed good neighbors and good stewards of the land.