6/23/2014 at 10:30 a.m.
Written by Ken Moore, produced by Robert Potter
Arkansas Farm Bureau Public Relations
Ann Mills, deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment at USDA, spent three days in Arkansas visiting local farms to see first-hand the steps farmers have taken to improve water quality in the Mississippi River Basin and prevent nutrients from contributing to a hypoxic, or oxygen-depleted, zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Arkansas is setting the standard for the 13 states in the basin through the state’s nine Discovery farms, an edge-of-field water monitoring program that provides verifiable data on nutrient content leaving the farms.
Prior to the tour participants were briefed by state officials about the efforts farmers are making to implement nutrient reduction strategies. The head of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission was pleased to have Mills see these efforts.
“In my view there’s no substitute for getting people in those kind of positions to get their feet on the ground in Arkansas and see the work our farmers and ranchers are doing,” said Randy Young, director of the ANRC.
"I attended the first meeting of this task force in 1999 and Arkansas is on the leading edge in terms of implementing what we’re now calling a state nutrient management reduction strategy. Something we’ve been doing in Arkansas with all of our partners and farmers and ranchers really since about the middle 80s. But we’re making good progress.”
“I think we’re at the front in terms of the 13 states that are participating, primarily because our producers are so interested in doing their part to maintain productivity, but also be the environmental stewards that they are,” said Mike Sullivan, state conservationist with the Arkansas Natural Resources and Conservation Service.
One of the stops on the tour was to Terry Dabbs’ farm. Dabbs has participated in the edge of field water monitoring program for the past three years. Through the use of a tailwater recovery system he is able to retain nutrients for use on his rice and soybean fields. Mills is aware of the state’s strong conservation programs and said Arkansas’ contributions to protecting the watershed and addressing the hypoxia issue are notable.
“Arkansas farmers have been just tremendous leaders among the 13 states in engaging in conservation practices, investing in conservation practices that are having a measureable impact on improving water quality, not just here in the state but in the Gulf of Mexico,” she said.
Through the Mississippi River Basin Initiative or MRBI, $380 million has been invested by USDA to support conservation projects in the 13 states. Mills said Arkansas has led the way in taking advantage of this program.
“These dollars are competitive dollars and so thanks to the strong partners here in the state Arkansas has been able to promote very compelling projects and have proven that they’re ahead of the pack in terms of putting great conservation on the ground.”
Mills also used her visit to announce that USDA is investing $33 million during fiscal year 2014 to fund 174 projects across the country, as part of the National Water Quality Initiative. Bayou Bartholomew, the world’s longest bayou at 359 miles with headwaters near Pine Bluff, will be the primary watershed to benefit in Arkansas.