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Filter Strips Aid Water Quality
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Numerous Mississippi farmers are planting vegetation buffer strips between crop land and waterways to improve water quality and fight erosion.
Dr. Larry Oldham, soil specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said buffer strips are narrow strips of grass or trees between crop land and surface waters that slow the water coming off crop land.
"By slowing the water, they allow nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus to settle out and not get into the water," Oldham said. "In row crop areas, buffer strips have been shown to lower pesticide movement to streams and lakes. They also can decrease sediment movement to water. Too much sediment restricts stream flow and can lead to more frequent flooding."
If allowed to wash off farmland into water sources, nutrients promote rapid growth in undesirable microscopic organisms. These can lead to decreased water quality and the loss of desirable organisms.
"By keeping the nutrients out of the water, we can restrict growth of undesirable algae and maintain water quality," Oldham said.
Dudley Waldrop said Waldrop Farms in Oktibbeha County, of which he is a partner, fought a constant battle with silt deposits and erosion caused by heavy rains and the overflow of a creek through his property. In 1996 after an especially devastating spring rainy season, he installed filter strips on his 1,700 acres of row crop land.
"It's the best thing we've ever done on this farm," Waldrop said. "Since then, we have had overflows from the canals and heavy enough rains that we can see these filter strips have really protected the soils and cut our erosion down to a minimal amount."
Waldrop Farms is edged on two sides by Trim Cane Creek and hills. In heavy rain, not only does the creek overflow, but the watershed off the hills is another problem. Topsoil is washed off the crop land, and the canals and ditches fill with silt and topsoil.
"The filter strips slow the water as it jumps out of the ditches and the canals and lets the silt deposit in the filter strips rather than in the fields," Waldrop said. "By slowing the water, we don't have near the surface erosion or silt deposits in our drainage ditches that we used to have."
Waldrop Farms has 40 acres of filter strips planted in fescue. All are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Terry Myers, district conservationist with the National Resource Conservation Service in Calhoun County, said filter strips became part of the CRP program in 1997.
"It's not a hard sell to get people to plant filter strips, and in the last month, the number of applications tripled," Myers said. "With the pine timber prices so good now, all my Calhoun County folks are wanting trees. In addition to the 15 year payments, they can harvest the trees."
In Calhoun County, about 90 farmers are using filter strips enrolled in the CRP program which pays from $45 to $72 per acre, depending on the soil type. CRP contracts can last for 15 years, and pay an additional $34 per acre one-time fee if trees are planted. Vegetative strips with trees can be 150 feet wide, compared to 100 feet wide if grass is planted.
"Of all the programs we have to offer for farmers and the environment, the buffers are by far the best we have not only for the land, water quality and wildlife, but also from an economic standpoint for the farmer," Myers said.