From Issue Winter 2019
Delta Farmers Advocating Resource Management, better known as Delta F.A.R.M., is an association of local producers, landowners, and stakeholders that share the common goal of practicing current agricultural methods to preserve, restore, and enhance the environment of the Mississippi Delta. They help growers make informed decisions to attain the highest level of environmental stewardship while paving the way for a more sustainable and profitable future of agriculture. One management practice Delta F.A.R.M. helps growers navigate is when and if to implement cover crops into their cropping system.
"In the context of the research and implementation of cover crops, Delta F.A.R.M. is becoming a Delta-wide asset to farmers," said Trey Cooke, Executive Director of Delta F.A.R.M. "We are careful to position ourselves as advocates and distributors of agricultural information because we do not conduct research. Our mission is to disseminate this information and act as a resource for farmers."
Cooke went on to explain that when producers and landowners join Delta F.A.R.M., they agree to adopt the organization's recommended environmental programs.
"This commitment also includes allowing us to access their farms as we guide them in attaining the highest possible level of land and water resource stewardship, sustainability, and profitability. These relationships between Delta F.A.R.M. and farmers create a perfect conduit for the research being done in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and USDA-ARS. This collaboration is a benefit to the entire local ag and research community," Cooke said.
Cooke said Delta F.A.R.M. is one of the greatest advocates of irrigation, water quality, and sustainability research that MSU performs, which have included such topics as irrigation efficiencies, water quality concerns, the development of moisture sensors, nutrient loading, and soil retention in addition to research in cover crops.
"One of the most exciting projects we currently have underway at Delta F.A.R.M. is our on-site cover crop field tests," Cooke said. "This year we have six paired-sites where we plant cover crops in fields immediately adjacent to traditional ag production fields. Except for the cover crops and some tillage differences, all of the inputs, soil types, crop choice, and other variables are the same in the paired fields. We have two cover crops we recommend based on the five-seed mixes developed at Delta F.A.R.M. Those mixes include black oats, cereal rye, triticale, balansa clover, and hairy vetch or black oats, triticale, balansa clover, and radish. We have successfully used this paired-site model in other Delta F.A.R.M. projects, and we are very excited about the pending results."
In those trials, Delta F.A.R.M., MAFES scientists, and MSU Extension Service specialists have partnered with six growers, from Clarksdale to Rolling Fork, to quantify and compare the environmental and agronomic benefits of a cover crop system against its economic costs.
One of those growers is Bubba Simmons, owner of Simmons Planting Co. in Tribbett, Mississippi.
"Delta F.A.R.M. pairs local producers with this research and performs trials in the field. This effort helps identify the potential gaps in the research, which helps prove the research in a real-world environment," he said.
Simmons pointed out that on-field trials will help growers make informed decisions when it comes to deciding whether to plant cover crops.
"With many traditional farming practices, inputs and their related expenses are easy to record. They are then compared with commodity sales and other incomes, and the balance sheet renders the result," Simmons said. "Cover crops are a very different animal. It is difficult to measure things like the cost-effectiveness of erosion control, water infiltration, and weed control. The goal is to determine if every farming practice, including cover crops, benefits the producer. The on-field farm trials Delta F.A.R.M. conducts in conjunction with Mississippi State will certainly help us determine if cover crops are beneficial."
For more information on Delta F.A.R.M., visit https://deltafarm.org.