Delta Farm Conservation Efforts

September 10, 2009, Associated Press

CLARKSDALE, Miss. (AP) — Soybean farmer Mason Dunn uses an irrigation system that recycles leftover water in an effort to conserve what is a precious commodity in the Delta region.

Dunn also uses numerous other methods to conserve water and limit the impact on the environment on his 900-acre farm along the Sunflower River. The federal government helps him pay for all of them through programs offered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Delta is a special area of concern for environmentalists because catfish and rice farms there use a large amount of water.

After some farmers discovered their wells were drying up about 20 years ago, environmentalists offered solutions, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist Al Garner said.

For example, Dunn uses tailwater recovery on his Coahoma County farm. Instead of letting water flow into nearby waterways, runoff from irrigated fields is captured, stored and reused.

Dunn’s farm also uses a stabilization structure that takes sediment from the water. Sediment is a problem because it can clog waterways and leave high levels of nutrients, which fuel algae growth. Once the algae bloom dies, it can lead to hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, creating a dead zone.

"Everything that we do to keep soil on the land and nutrients out of the stream, we need to do," NRCS State Conservationist Homer Wilkes said.

A tailwater system, like the one on Dunn’s farm, costs about $50,000.

Dunn, 27, received federal assistance in the form of a cost-share programs, which split the cost of the tailwater recovery system and the stabilization structure installed on his farm. His district conservationist, Justin Norris, said in many of the programs, federal dollars cover 90 percent of the project.

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