Delta Conservation Demonstration Center: Center promotes farm environmentalists

In its second year of operation, the Delta Conservation Demonstration Center is succeeding in its mission to showcase best management practices and other environmentally-friendly production methods on a working, commercial-sized Delta farm.

But demonstrating real-life conservation practices isn't all the center is doing to promote farmers as environmentally responsible neighbors.

Part of the center's work includes using soy diesel in some of its farm equipment. So far, two tractors and four diesel irrigation wells operate on the 2-percent soy diesel fuel that the center trucks in from Florida.

The non-profit corporation hopes to convert to a 20-percent soy diesel fuel in 2003, and then eventually 100-percent soy diesel as it becomes more readily available. Currently, it costs the conservation center about 14 cents more per gallon for the soy fuel than it would for regular diesel, due to shipping and handling costs.

“Soy diesel reduces our reliance on foreign oil, has better lubricating properties and supports home-grown products. Eventually, we hope to run ethanol in our gas engines, but we're faced with a roadblock now because of a lack of availability in this area,” says Sam Newsom, chairman of the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District is leasing the model working farm, which consists of 624 acres of cultivatable land plus adjacent wooded areas, from the city of Greenville under a 25-year agreement. The district's five commissioners operate the Delta Conservation Demonstration Center with Hiram Boone serving as executive director of the farm project.

“We needed a place to demonstrate those conservation practices that are economically rewarding for Delta farmers, and environmentally positive for the Delta,” Newsom says. “By design, the center is as close as can be to a completely no-till farm. It's a fact that no-till culture reduces or eliminates silting into the surface water. Hopefully, we will be able to show that we can control sediment and nutrient runoff through normal conservation practices.”

Billed as a long-range project showcasing the Delta as a leader in environmentally-sound agriculture, the Delta Conservation Demonstration Center aims to show farmers, landowners and others the benefits of buffer strips, field borders and vegetative waterways. “We also want to demonstrate some non-traditional conservation methods that may be more economical than the conventional practices farmers are using,” says Boone.

Another of the center's goals is to establish a farmers' market in the Greenville area for locally grown crops, not, Boone says, those imported from Mexico.

The demonstration farm also serves as a teaching center for grade schools and other students.

“We know if we don't teach children about conservation, then they won't know about the conservation practices needed to produce a cleaner environment,” Newsom says.

“Most non-ag people don't understand the cost of money or the cost of equipment necessary to operate a farming business. They see 50 bushels of soybeans per acre at $5 per bushel, multiply it out, and think they understand what farmers earn.

“Our concept was for this not just to be a Washington County conservation project, but a true multi-state effort to demonstrate the conservation-oriented practices that can be used on farms in the Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri Delta,” he says. “We want this to be bigger than us.”

The idea, Boone says, is to bring people to the Delta to see a working model farm utilizing a myriad of conservation practices.

“We want to show that farmers are doing a better job than is often publicized by some environmental groups. Farmers are already doing a good job as conservationists. What we're doing is providing the unbiased scientific information, which reinforces the benefits of the conservation measures farmers are putting into practice.”

e-mail: [email protected].

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