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Step by step: Building quality irrigation and soil health

Steady progress, dedication to improvement define on-farm water efforts.

Raney Rapp, Senior Writer

May 13, 2024

6 Slides

Generational farms in the Mississippi Delta are imbibed with a special blend of history, camaraderie and commitment to quality. Visiting places where the roads share the family surname and corners carry on the legacy of tenant growers long gone puts into perspective the heritage of growing in some of America’s richest soils.

At the Wiggers Farm partnership near Winnsboro, La., next-generation producer Drew Wiggers, alongside his uncle Scott and cousin Rusty, contributes to the slow, steady progress of on-farm improvements that hallmark modern agriculture.

On-farm progress

Wiggers represents the fifth generation of family farming the same nearly 2,000-acre farm. It is split into two 1,000-acre portions, one characterized with a soil profile as “gumbo,” a more flood-prone, clay-heavy field a few miles away from the main farm, which has a more characteristic sandy-silt loam profile.

“Here we have a very, very shallow soil profile topsoil,” Wiggers said. “It's anywhere from six to 12 inches deep. And then we hit a fragipan layer and it's hard for us to pull water much deeper than that or get root penetration. So, we're basically just watering the top of the ground to keep it pulling up enough water.”

That intimate knowledge of soil structure and how to treat it is the first building block to pinpointed farm progress. The Wiggers family’s commitment to the understanding of those fundamental principles, as well as implementing tailored strategies to fit them, is showcased in the main farm shop where soil structure maps and aerial images from nearly the last 100 years make a mosaic on the walls.

When Drew returned to the family farm unexpectedly in 2009 following the death of his father, his uncles were finishing up the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, which poised the farm for improvement and investment. The result is a steady upward trend to completing a few central family goals – make the land more efficient, move to 100% irrigated acreage, monitor water usage and improve soil health.

Investing in Improvement

Investing in Veris data and variable rate applications using Conservation Stewardship Program funds through NRCS became one of the first major upgrades the farm pursued following Drew’s addition to the partnership in 2009. An upgrade that continues to impact on-farm productivity today.

“At that time, we did 600 acres with Veris and then did variable rate fertilizer applications behind that,” Wiggers said. “CSP paid that out over three years and that was kind of our introduction to using programs. We took the money we saved and bought AgLeader monitors for yield monitoring. And then since that time, we've been able to use them as well.”

Not only did the introduction to cost-share programs allow the Wiggers farm to make improvements, it also introduced them to the principle of targeting resources to unique soil needs as a way to guide on-farm efficiency.

“We did some grid sampling but with the Veris data, we can get a percentage of soil samples, representative of all soil types in the field,” Wiggers said. “And so, we liked that better. We found that on average, we would probably use the same tonnage of potash and of TSP (Triple superphosphate), that we would put out straight, but instead of putting it straight across every acre, we were able to put more when needed and less when we didn’t.”

Understanding soil structure, moisture and variation across the field, as well as the newfound knowledge that precision technology could help guide resource use, opened up a world of new opportunity for the Wiggers farm.

While the money from their initial cost-share program eventually ran out, it opened up opportunities for future programs and taught the family how to test new technology with the help of cost-share funds before implementing the technology across the broad scale of the whole farm.

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About the Author(s)

Raney Rapp

Senior Writer, Delta Farm Press

Delta Farm Press Senior Writer

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