Much of agriculture’s success depends on effective water management, which must be done to keep both farmland and surrounding areas healthy. Agriculture was a $6.7 billion industry in Mississippi last year, and the state is on track to match that value in 2012. That makes agriculture big business with a big responsibility to the environment.
Wes Burger, associate director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said agricultural landscapes are intensely managed ecosystems that produce food, fiber and fuel to
meet the needs of a growing global population with a growing appetite
for goods and services.
“Meeting these growing demands in a sustainable manner will
require efficient use of renewable natural resources,” Burger says.
“Natural communities, including wetlands, grasslands and forests, are
an important component of these managed landscapes. They produce
essential environmental services, such as water filtration, nutrient
cycling, soil conservation, aquifer recharge, pest management, pollination
and wildlife habitat.
“Strategic incorporation of natural features into managed agricultural
systems is the central tenet of conservation planning. Natural features
contribute to the productivity of these systems and ensure their
sustainability,” Burger adds.
Managing Nutrients Effectively
Robbie Kroger, an assistant professor of aquatic sciences in Mississippi
State University’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and
Aquaculture, is working to develop and improve conservation practices
that work for agriculture and are environmentally sustainable.
He works for MAFES, the MSU Extension Service and the MSU Forest
and Wildlife Research Center.
“The primary focus of my research is mitigating
what is in the water before it goes
downstream,” Kroger says. “Water that leaves
a farm may contain residual herbicides and
unused fertilizers that will have an impact
on area surface waters and, ultimately, the
Kroger is trying to lessen the chemical
load in water that is leaving the farm and
reduce the amount that goes downstream. He
works with the Natural Resources Conservation
Service to encourage producers to follow
Best Management Practices, or BMPs, to
“Many BMPs advocate surface water capture,”
Kroger says. “We continue to encourage
growers to follow these practices, but we
now have a new emphasis on reusing
His focus is on nutrients, specifically on
preventing them from leaving agricultural
settings and making their way through area
ditches, creeks and streams to the Mississippi
River and then the Gulf of Mexico. Excess
nutrients in the Gulf lead to massive algal
blooms, which deplete available oxygen and
create dead zones for marine life.
“Our goal is to pay close attention at home
to the aquifers and river systems in the Delta
and protect the local systems all the way
down to the Gulf,” Kroger says.
To do that, Kroger’s work attempts to control
“We want producers to control runoff, slow
it down, build places to hold and capture
water and let the sediments settle out,” Kroger
says. “The same strategies are used to manage nutrients as are used
‘For The Farmer, By The Farmer’
Kroger has started the Research and Education to Advance Conservation
and Habitat, or REACH, program to showcase these BMPs.
Interested growers can enroll their farms in the program, giving them
access to MSU research and Kroger’s assistance and making their
farms models of sustainability for others to see.
“REACH is for the farmer, by the farmer,” Kroger says. “Our
goal is to create a network of cooperative farms with different types
of agricultural practices that will showcase conservation practices, how
well they work for agriculture and the environment, and serve as
models for sustainable methods.”
Among the techniques being put into place are low-grade weirs, or
small dams, that slow down runoff water. When water is slowed or
held briefly, the soil microbes and vegetation pull nutrients out of the
water so they can be used by plants, reducing the amount of nutrients
“We’re quantifying how effective these BMPs are at nitrogen
removal and phosphorous reduction,” Kroger says. “No one else in
the country is testing the BMPs we’re testing.”
Kroger’s work is funded through MSU and several state and federal
agencies, including the Mississippi Department of Marine
Resources, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation
Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Contact Bonnie Coblentz, senior Extension associate, Agricultural
Communications, Mississippi State University at (662) 325-2901 or