The job titles of “farmer” and “conservationist” may not often be associated with one another, but in most cases, they should be considered one and the same.
Arkansas farmers participate in a number of programs that aid in environmentally friendly practices and conservation efforts. While these programs vary depending on funding sources, specific goals or missions and rules and regulations, the one uniformity is producer participation. Arkansas producers have been using environmentally friendly practices on thousands of acres for decades in order to make sure the Natural State lives up to its namesake.
Row crop farmer David Feilke of Stuttgart says that water conservation is the most important aspect of his farming career.
“We started in 1996 with our first tail-water recovery and have since built three reservoirs on our farm,” he says. “We’re able to pick up 100 percent of water that runs off the farm.”
Storing water through the winter is an issue for Feilke, and he believes that building reservoirs was the right thing to do. Deep wells can be much more expensive than surface water, and reservoirs go farther, with up to 3,000 gallons of water being able to be used at one time.
Feilke says that water is a huge concern in Arkansas, even though they are fortunate to have a steady stream of water that flows through the state from major rivers. “We only capture about 3 percent of that river water, and the rest empties into the gulf,” he says.
Arkansas contains an extremely diverse landscape including hardwood forests, native prairies and boggy wetlands. This diversity creates a need for a variety of conservation programs to be established for each of the state’s ecosystems. Furthermore, each conservation program utilized throughout the state of Arkansas works to improve education, communication and legislation in order to preserve, restore and conserve natural resources.
One such program is the Arkansas Discovery Farms. This program monitors and evaluates water quality from runoff from various agricultural production systems. With the ultimate goal being to establish the best management practices and reduce nutrient and sediment loss, the program is operated through the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension. Five operations throughout the state set up water quality sampling stations to monitor water attributes. These operations include Elkins, a poultry and beef operation in Beaver Lake, upper White River Watershed; Morrilton, a beef and row crop farm in the Point remove watershed; Cherry Valley, a soybean, wheat and rice operation on the L’Anguille River; Stuttgart, a rice, soybean and corn farm in the Bayou Meto watershed; and Dumas a cotton and corn operation.
The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides financial assistance for agricultural producers to pursue renewable energy goals. This encompasses using renewable technologies to reduce energy consumption, making energy efficiency improvements in non-residential buildings and facilities, buying renewable energy systems or participating in energy audits and studies.
Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arkansas provides conservation program assistance through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). This program works to allow farmers to convert eroding cropland or other sensitive land into vegetative cover. The transition lessens soil erosion and the impact on other environmental issues such as water and air quality.
Additionally, the Wetland Preserve Program is popular among Arkansas producers. These voluntary programs provide farmers with annual rental payments for the land they have converted.