June 2012 //
Vol. 30 // No. 1
Jun 17, 2012
Nearly 250 people joined the 2012 CTIC Conservation In Action Tour in the Mississippi Delta on May 30-31, giving participants a firsthand look at the unique farming practices and challenges that mark the region's vibrant agriculture industry. Amid the lush crops and managed wildlife habitat, the Tour explored water quality concerns, water supply issues and land management practices on the fertile, fragile Delta landscape.
2012 TOUR SPONSORS
- The Mosaic Company
- John Deere
- Case IH
- Koch Agronomic Services, LLC
- Bayer CropScience
- Pioneer Hi-Bred
- Jimmy Sanders, Inc.
- The Fertilizer Institute
- National Farmers Union
- Cotton, Inc.
- Agri Drain Corporation
"The rich culture and history, as well as the conservation successess in the area, make the Mississippi Delta an exciting choice for this year's Tour," noted Rex Martin, CTIC board president.
CTIC partnered with Delta Farmers Advocating Resource Management (Delta F.A.R.M.) to develop the 2012 Tour. Delta F.A.R.M. unites landowners and growers who are dedicated to conserving, restoring and enhancing the environment of northwest Mississippi.
Trudy Fisher, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, pointed out that the Mississippi River is the "geographic anchor" and transport route that ties together much of the U.S. agriculture industry. She outlined the challenges and opportunities the Mississippi system presents.
"We can all, in all of our states and our ag industry, create partnerships and continue to build on existing partnerships so we can show others here in our country and across the world what we can do with a shared common vision," Fisher told the group. "We've got to take advantage of business opportunities in such a way that we reduce runoff and we've got to take advantage of opportunities in such a way that we use less water. We've got to feed the people while protecting our own quality of life."
Hold Sediment in Place
The Tour's first stop was Stovall Farms, the childhood home of blues legend Muddy Waters. Local farmers, advisors and agency representatives detailed ongoing efforts to continually improve water conservation, nutrient management and soil health. At Stovall Farms, participants also explored a water quality monitoring program linked to the nutrient reduction program along the Mississippi River.
Pete Hunter describes the innovative conservation system at Stovall Farms. CTIC photo.
Robbie Kroger, water quality specialist at Mississippi State University, detailed the importance of drainage management on Delta farms in reducing nutrient loads in the surface waters that ultimately drain to the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite its relatively flat topography, he noted, "Mississippi has one of the highest sediment loss rates in the entire country."
"Phosphorous is intimately tired to that sediment," he added. "All the practices we'll talk about today are structural – they're made to hold sediment on the landscape."
The three critical practices include careful management of inputs on the field through precision agriculture and land leveling. On the edge of the field, raised pads that channel runoff to slotted pipes help reduce sheet erosion. They also slow flowing water enough to capture sediment at the edge of the field instead of letting it run into ditches and rivers. The last lines of defense are drainage ditches – "they're not charismatic, but they're ubiquitous," Kroger noted – which can be graded and managed to retain water long enough to let more sediment settle out and allow phosphorous and nitrogen to leave the water.
"You either retain phosphorous or you transport it," Kroger pointed out. "We're retaining it."
The group moved on to Mill Creek Gin to see a state-of-the-art cotton ginning facility and learn about the latest in cotton processing at one of the natino's most innovative gins. The gin was also the site of a Conservation Technology Expo, where exhibitors including AgRobotics, Koch Agronomic Services, SFP and The Mosaic Company displayed some of the tools that will help farmers protect water and soil quality.
Ron Olson, senior agronomist for The Mosaic Company and a CTIC board member, explained why Mosaic – a strong supporter of CTIC – signed on as lead sponsor for the CIA Tour.
"The Mosaic Company understands that if we're going to make a difference in this world and improve conservation, it doesn't happen by one company doing it – it takes a great, cooperative partnership effort," he noted. "We are seeing some wonderful conservation practices here in the Mississippi Delta. We're seeing the evidence of what people can do when they cooperate and get together and all work for the same end, and that's to have nutrients stay in the right place and do the work they're supposed to do, and to keep soil in the right place through their good conservation practices."
The Tour concluded at Williams Farms, which is managed for wildlife habitat as well as crop production. Delta F.A.R.M. Executive Director Trey Cooke and agency representatives detailed the farm's multi-faceted conservation programs and how they help generate multiple income streams from both the farming and hunting sides of the operation.
The environment for deer, game birds and other wildlife that enjoy field and forests has benefited tremendously from farmers' conscientious management. But Phil Bass, acting director of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, adds that significant improvements in fish habitat are also an important indicator of the value of conservation.
Presentations at Williams Farms focused on meeting water needs of Delta agriculture, wildlife and communities. CTIC photo.
"I've been coming up here for 30 years, and the changes we've seen not only in the landscape but especially in the receiving waters, the fish habitat – the fact that the fish are coming back to the Mississippi Delta – is a wonderful story," Bass said.
Encouraging farmers to engage in voluntary conservation programs is critical to success, added Richard Ingram, special projects administrator for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. In turn, he noted, the role of Delta F.A.R.M. and CTIC is crucial to introducing those programs to growers.
"If we were to come up here by ourselves, even though we've got great relationships, we couldn't be nearly as effective, and so through Delta F.A.R.M. and organizations like CTIC we're able to do more assisting producers, assisting farmers and working with them," Ingram said.
Boots on the Ground
Dave White addresses the crowd at lunch. CTIC photo.
White's described his strategy to promote even more partnerships and co-funded programs to increase the presence – and the efficiency – of conservation advocates in the field.
"We're going to enter into increased leveraging of dollars," the Chief told the group. "We're all going to pool our dollars for a common purpose. We're going to get more boots on the ground. It's not going to be a federal foot necessarily in that boot, but it's going to be a boot that's highly qualified and trained to carry out this mission."
White's approach is a snug fit with CTIC's historical approach – 30 years of building partnerships and spreading information on ag conservation practices – notes Karen A. Scanlon, executive director of CTIC.
2012 TOUR STATISTICS250 registered participants from:
- 26 states
- 2 countries
- 25 innovative agribusinesses
- Farms across the nation, including 14 producers from previous Tours
"Fostering the networks, forging partnerships and serving as a clearinghouse for information is the heart of CTIC's mission," she says. "Chief White's comments underscore the importance of what CTIC's members and partners have been doing for the past 30 years, and challenge us to keep it up as we continue helping get conservation practices on the ground."
Join Us Next Year
The 2012 Tour was the fifth annual Conservation in Action Tour, part of CTIC's commitment to championing conservation agriculture and its role in addressing soil, water and air quality challenges. Next year's tour will be in the Indian Creek watershed in Livingston County, Ill.
"The Conservation In Action Tour is a fun and informative experience to see conservation successes in different parts of the country," said Pauley Bradley of John Deere, a Silver Medal corporate member of CTIC and sponsor of the Conservation In Action Tour's evening social. "The Tour is always an excellent venue to witness the partnerships that make this happen, and to showcase John Deere's commitment to those whose work is linked to the land."
For More Information
Chuck Zimmerman of AgWired was on hand at the 2012 Conservation In Action Tour, recording presentations and interviewing speakers. To hear many of the presentations and interviews from the program, click here.