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Making conservation work: farm demonstrates how

The thermometer reads 101, a radio weatherperson is yammering about a heat index of 111, and Doug Davidson, who is punching holes in a quarter-mile or so of irrigation polypipe to start water flowing into a soybean field, believes every degree of it.

“It's plenty hot, and I probably smell like a goat,” he laughs, pausing to wipe sweat from his face. “But this is a lot better than putting down aluminum pipe. And light years better than taking it up — I always hated that.”

Davidson, who is farm manager for 638 acres of crops at the Delta Conservation Demonstration Center near Greenville, Miss., has seen the wettest June on record morph into a July of blazing hot days and no rain, and now fields are needing water. “We've got our pumps going full blast,” he says.

Despite the June deluges that played havoc with a lot of crops around the Mid-South, Davidson says the corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, and grain sorghum on the farm are faring well (wheat is also grown). “When we started the center, all the fields were leveled, and we have an excellent water management system.” All fields are no-till, and an array of conservation practices — grassed waterways, field borders, filter strips — and best management practices virtually eliminate soil erosion.

“Water that comes off these fields is as clear and clean as the water that comes out of the irrigation pipe,” Davidson says. “We're proving, for everyone to see, that water coming off Delta crop fields doesn't have to be muddy.”

The facility, now in its fourth year of operation, was established to demonstrate how various conservation measures and management practices can be employed on a commercial farm to protect resources, improve the environment, and produce economically acceptable yields.

Crop management here follows Core 4 principles that include conservation tillage, crop nutrient management, weed and pest management, and conservation buffers.

“This isn't a research facility,” Davidson emphasizes. “Although we cooperate with university research programs, you won't see any plots here. These are all commercial crops that are grown, harvested, and marketed. We take verified research methods and demonstrate them under optimum conservation programs so farmers can see the results and decide what might fit their operations.”

He stops his pickup at a soybean field, lush and green, plants already loaded with young pods. “These beans were planted behind rice. We didn't roll the field or do any kind of soil preparation — just planted right in the stubble.”

He also points out a field planted to a cold-tolerant cotton. Planted in early March, the crop requires less insecticide and irrigation and allows an earlier harvest. “It's mid-July, and some bolls are already beginning to crack,” he says.

Most of the crop fields are on a five-year rotation. “We don't try and chase the market,” Davidson says. “I know what's going to be on any given field from year to year.” There are also fields of continuous cotton and soybeans to demonstrate how those cropping systems perform under optimum conservation programs.

Extensive data are being compiled on all fields and are updated frequently and made available to visitors.

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