Discovery Farm program giving producers tools to manage nutrients
- Discovery Farm program data giving tools to better management nutrients
- “Farmers are very good at … implementing solutions.” Mike Daniels
LITTLE ROCK – The Discovery Farm program is helping provide farmers the information they need to keep nutrient loss to a minimum, said Mike Daniels, water quality and nutrient management specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“It’s empowering for the producer to see what’s coming off the land,” Daniels said Wednesday.
Daniels was part of a panel discussion on the “Importance of Nutrient Reduction Activities by Private Landowners at the spring public meeting of the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. The meeting was held Wednesday at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center.
The presenters discussed projects aimed at restoring water quality in the Gulf of Mexico.
Daniels shared the case of Steve Stevens, the example cotton farm in Arkansas’ nine-farm strong Discovery Farm program. Daniels said that when the farmer was first approached to join, he declined. Emphatically.
However, since seeing the data from his farm, his reluctance has evaporated, and he is eager to share the findings with anyone who’s interested.
“The first year’s data is showing that he’s doing pretty good, and I think he wants to refine it,” Daniels said. Once farmers “see the data, they’re willing to make changes. Steve knows that if he is losing nitrogen, he’s losing money. That nitrogen is expensive.”
A key tool to nutrient management in Arkansas is soil testing. Daniels noted that when he first came aboard at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the soils lab was taking in 70,000 samples a year.
“In 2012, we pulled 178,000 soil test samples,” he said. “Some of those were mandatory for nutrient management plans, but the vast majority is voluntary.”
The eagerness to use soil testing demonstrates that “our farmers are very good at monitoring their land and implementing solutions,” Daniels said. “We often don’t give them credit for that.”
Daniels said that while it is difficult to make a direct connection between what’s found through edge-of-field monitoring to what might be flowing into the Mississippi River, the monitoring information “gives farmers the confidence to make changes.”
Still, Daniels said farmers need better tools to help guide their work, and there’s a big opportunity for land grant universities and other agencies to work together to develop those tools.
Also on Wednesday’s program was Andrew Sharpley, professor with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and a globally recognized expert in water quality and nutrient management.
Sharpley is the leader of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team, which is studying a controversial hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed in north Arkansas. He was part of a panel discussing “Enhancing Nutrient Stewardship at the Local Level.”
Sharpley gave attendees an overview of the work being done on the hog farm and, citing the many partnerships at work in the study, called it a “great example of land grant working with a government agency.”
Sharpley and Daniels were among the presenters at the spring public meeting of the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. The meeting was held Wednesday at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center.
A day earlier, participants in the meeting were in Stuttgart to hear presentations and tour the Terry Dabbs farm, one of the statewide Discovery Farms, where researchers are monitoring edge-of-field runoff and water quality.
The Discovery Farm program is operated with many partners: University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, Arkansas Rice Check-off, Arkansas Corn & Grain Sorghum Board, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Cotton Inc., The Walton Family Foundation, the state of Arkansas, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and Monsanto.
For more information on water quality, contact your county extension office, or visit www.uaex.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
By Mary Hightower
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service