Ricefields are important foraging habitat for waterfowl and other waterbirds in several North American wintering areas, including the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV). Rice growers are likely to adopt management practices that provide habitat for waterfowl if agronomic benefits also occur. Therefore, we conducted a replicated field experiment during autumn through spring 1995-1997 to study effects of postharvest field treatment and winter-water management on agronomic variables including biomass of residual rice straw, cool-season grasses and forbs (i.e., winter weeds), and viability of red rice (Oryza sativa var.). The treatment combination of postharvest disking and flooding until early March reduced straw 68%, from 9,938 kg/ha after harvest to 3,209 kg/ha in spring. Treatment combinations that included flooding until early March were most effective in suppressing winter weeds and decreased their biomass in spring by 83% when compared to the average of other treatment combinations. Effects of treatment combinations on spring viability of red rice differed between winters, but no significant effects were found within winters. Autumn disking followed by flooding until early March reduced rice straw and suppressed winter weeds the most, but with additional costs. To obtain the most agronomic benefits, we recommend that rice growers forgo autumn disking and flood fields until early March, which will provide moderate straw reduction, good weed suppression, and predicted savings of $22.24-62.93/ha (U.S.) ($9.00-25.47/ac). Maintenance of floods on ricefields until early March also benefits waterfowl and other waterbirds by providing foraging habitat throughout winter.
Additional publication details
Agronomie implications of waterfowl management in Mississippi ricefields