The two soybean fields situated just outside Bobo bore striking differences. A passer-by wouldn’t have guessed the two 10-acre plots had been planted the very same day earlier this spring.
One resembled a carpet of deep green featuring soybeans with full leaves and sturdy plants standing about three feet out of the ground. The other looked more like a neighbor’s patchy, neglected lawn with a strip of about 18-inch tall, lime-green soybean plants.
Local farmer Andy Schmidt, working with Delta Farmers Advocating Resource Management (FARM), had planted the crop earlier this spring using two different methods. The conventional method involves fall tillage and the use of more herbicides. The unconventional method calls for a cover crop to be planted in the fall and the farmer to come back and plant his soybeans or corn over it in the spring.
Yet, looking at the fields displayed Thursday, one could see where the “more lush” field grown with conventional means would seem to offer the higher yield, which means more cash in the farmer’s pocket when he sells his grain at market.
Still, Schmidt admits to seeing benefits of using the unconventional method, where there is a remarkable decrease in the amount of soil and nutrient runoff.
“I can especially see it with the water runoff, the water is a lot cleaner,” he said. “And you also have the ability of the cover crop to preserve moisture in the growing season.”
Schmidt, who grew up on a family farm and has been farming here since 1998, uses 100 percent irrigation on his corn and soybean fields in and around Clarksdale, so water is a big deal.
And water is a big deal with the Environmental Protection Agency.
During a visit to Coahoma County on Thursday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt presented the B.F. Smith Foundation and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship with grants, each $1 million.
The grants will go towards projects that demonstrate innovative monitoring systems that will measure and report field scale water and nutrient dynamics to the farmer in support of informed crop management decisions throughout the Delta region.
Schmidt’s test acreage is part of a Delta FARM project that is intensely monitored, said staff member Dan Prevost.
“We are monitoring every drop of water that comes off it,” Prevost said in pointing to the test acreages.
Delta FARM, working with the EPA and Mississippi State Extension Service in addition to farmers, is monitoring 12 farms across the Delta.
The B.F. Smith Foundation’s grant was for the Yazoo River Basin project. The project will demonstrate a successful cover crop minimum tillage production system and evaluate the agronomic, economic and environmental benefits.
An innovative monitoring system will measure and report field-scale water -- a nutrient dynamic to the farmer, which will support better-informed crop management decisions.
This project will provide data demonstrating greater than five percent reductions in sediment, nitrogen or phosphorous through the implementation of cover crop minimal tillage systems on a minimum of 15 farms and 800 acres annually.
During the visit to Schmidt’s Big River Farms, Pruitt and members of the Mississippi agriculture community also discussed a variety of pollinator issues and water quality projects in the area and the impact it has on agricultural systems.
“This should be a partnership because there’s a commitment to make things better,” Pruitt said to the group huddled beside the soybean field. “This shouldn’t be adversarial.”
In a press release, Pruitt stated, “This funding will empower those on the ground in the states to improve water quality and crop production in the Mississippi River Basin. EPA is committed to working cooperatively with our state and local partners to support American agriculture and protect our vital water resources.”
Trey Glenn, who is the EPA administrator for the region that includes Coahoma County, praised Pruitt’s leadership and his “common-sense approach” in taking on nutrient and soil loss. Glenn noted that “agriculture is a big deal” here with 75 million acres of agriculture in the EPA’s Region Four.
Earlier in the day, the Delta Council and Delta FARM hosted a luncheon at the Hopson Commissary near Clarksdale for Pruitt and area farmers. They then held the grant announcement at the adjacent Omega Planting Company farming operation run by Coahoma County farmers Bowen, Dick and Mattson Flowers.