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Conservation methods saving and making money for Stovall Farms

One of the first things Pete Hunter tells visitors to Stovall Farms is thank you. Hunter says folks from areas north of the Mississippi Delta have made a lasting contribution to its topsoil. But Hunter wants visitors to know he’s doing everything he can to make sure the soil stays on his fields. He spoke about those efforts to improve irrigation efficiency to a group of congressional staffers who toured the Delta as guests of the Delta Council.

Hunter, who is making his 40thcrop since graduating from Mississippi State University in 1973, notes that Stovall Farms is the home of blues legend Muddy Waters. The cabin Waters grew up in is now housed at the Clarksdale Blues Museum after touring all over the U.S. and Europe. The blues tradition is one of the more unique things about the Delta. Another is the makeup of its soils, which were deposited during centuries of flooding of the Mississippi Delta.

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The managers of Stovall Farms began land-leveling and reforming the land in the 1960s. Long periods of dry weather forced growers to irrigate if they wanted to make a crop. But Hunter realized that if they didn’t take additional steps irrigation runoff water could erode the ends of the rows and wash the soil into area streams and eventually into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

More recently, Hunter has begun using new tools to reduce runoff, including tail water recovery systems, and to use irrigation water more efficiently. Last year, he discovered he was overwatering a corn field on the farm, increasing his irrigation cost and reducing his yield. He now has three soil probes that allow him to monitor the soil moisture levels in his fields from his laptop computer. The probes, he says, have already saved him two-and-a-half waterings he didn't need and have probably increased his yields, based on a 20-bushels-per-acre yield loss in 2012.

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