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Good News on Mississippi Groundwater / June 21, 1999 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Floyd Anderson Jr., and his son check out possible fishing holes in Thighman Lake.

Good News on Mississippi Groundwater

By Jim De Quattro
June 21, 1999

WASHINGTON, June 21--Is farm runoff damaging groundwater in Mississippi? No, at least not in a special U.S. Department of Agriculture project area in the Mississippi Delta, according to a comprehensive sampling project by scientists at USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

“The scientists who made the measurements aren’t stopping there," said ARS administrator Floyd P. Horn. "They plan to help growers in the Delta region improve water quality for wildlife surrounding their farms."

The researchers' good news on water quality comes from one of the cooperative Management Systems Evaluation Areas, or MSEAs, that USDA has set up in seven states. "In these projects, ARS scientists and other federal and state agencies work in partnership with farmers to identify and control agricultural pollution," Horn said. "The farmers agree to try environmentally friendly land management strategies so scientists can evaluate their effectiveness."

Many of these strategies protected groundwater. Data from the 7,320-acre MSEA in Sunflower and LeFlore Counties in the Mississippi Delta show contamination by farm chemicals is not a problem. The ARS scientists drilled about 100 wells--at depths of five, 10 and 15 feet--in watersheds around three lakes. They checked for 18 different farm chemicals. In three years, only five of 600 well samples showed pesticide residue. Even then, levels were within limits for drinking water.

"The growers are gratified to learn local groundwater is fine and are interested in learning about how to use these 'best management practices' to protect lakes near their land,” said Horn.

The Mississippi Delta MSEA focuses on farmland erosion control and preventing sediment and chemical runoff into three oxbow lakes--Beasley, Thighman and Deep Hollow.

Near 40-acre Thighman Lake, Floyd R. Anderson, Jr., grows 4,300 acres of soybeans, corn, rice and cotton. Tillage operations could contribute to soil erosion. But "why," Anderson asked, "would I make 10 or 12 tilling trips across a field and erode my soil--and pay $6 an acre each time to do it--when three or four trips will do?"

Technology being tested in the Delta MSEA not only enhances the health of the lakes, thus increasing fish and duck numbers, but may also help growers reduce costs. Many farmers plant soil-protecting cover crops, but they have to replant them each year. ARS agronomist Seth Dabney is helping Anderson test an alternative.

"Balansa clover adds about 75 pounds of crop-feeding nitrogen per acre to the soil every year it's used. It produces lots of seeds, so farmers don't have to replant annually," said Dabney, at ARS' National Sedimentation Laboratory, Oxford, Miss.

Other ARS scientists working in the Mississippi Delta MSEA are based at the agency's Jamie Whitten Delta State Research Center in Stoneville, Miss.

Besides monitoring groundwater, researchers are tracking effects of experimental farm practices and crop rotations on weeds, beneficial microbes in the soil and water, soil organic matter and soil nutrients.

A story about the Delta MSEA project is in the June issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jun99/msea0699.htm

Scientific contact: Seth Dabney, ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory, 598 McElroy Dr., Oxford, MS, 38655, phone (601) 232-2975, fax (601) 232-2915, dabney@sedlab.olemiss.edu.

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