Robert Kroger MSU assistant professor and REACH coordinator Farmers love the land with an undying passion, so embracing a conservation program that is producer-driven can be a dream come true. Mississippi State University’s Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat, or REACH program, marries conservation with agriculture and allows the resource needs and concerns of producers to be addressed individually. Currently, 36 farmers are enrolled across Mississippi. Combined, these producers have 125,000 acres in 19 counties enrolled in the REACH program individually. “As one participating farmer eloquently stated, if a conservation practice doesn’t make economic sense, a farmer will not use it,” says Robert Kroger, MSU assistant professor and REACH coordinator. “So REACH strives to always showcase and highlight the environmental, as well as the agronomic, benefits of conservation.” For instance, current program research is investigating water use efficiencies and water quality improvements associated with certain rice production conservation practices. “REACH is documenting the water use of zero grade rice, showcasing groundwater savings through surface water use, and water quality benefits of an associated tailwater recovery system,” says Kroger. Agriculture needs to sustainably intensify production for a growing human population, Kroger says. But producers know they are stewards of the land and must be viable and efficient at the same time. Mike Boyd and his son, Lamar, of Totelow Planting Co. in Tunica county know firsthand how helpful the REACH program can be. Their 4,000- acre grain farm is now benefiting from documentation of water use data through the REACH Program. Three years ago the Boyds utilized Natural Resources Conservation Service programs to implement a tailwater recovery project. The project allowed them to improve the existing landscape with installation of pads and pipes. They also constructed a 10-acre, on-farm storage reservoir where excess tailwater and runoff can be pumped for irrigation use at a later time. Water, both in reservoir storage and behind slotted board risers in flooded fields, is also now available as habitat for migrating waterfowl. Excess water is diverted into cypress sloughs and wetlands to further prevent the runoff of valuable nutrients. “Stewardship and conservation are top priority on our farm,” Mike Boyd says. “Our land and water are vital to our success and either, or both, could be compromised in short order. I feel that our participation in programs like REACH has moved us to a high level of each.” While these improvements are vital, they can be expensive. Programs like REACH are critical to farmers’ and landowners’ success, says Boyd. “REACH is documenting real numbers to provide farmers with the ammunition to defend these quality programs. REACH provides this important information for all of us.” After evaluating the REACH program, the Boyds knew how the program could help their operation. Others may seek understanding the benefits associated with surface water use versus groundwater, says Kroger, and how incorporation of wildlife habitat in agricultural landscapes benefits agriculture, wildlife and the environment. “By being good stewards of our land and water, we improve all aspects of them,” Boyd says. “Increased production means higher returns. We spend these dollars locally. We employ local people who spend their money here. We are waterfowl guides and the enhanced habitat helps our business tremendously. Hunters come from across the country to our state to hunt. Everyone wins.” Kroger is thrilled farmers are responding to the program’s availability and promises he will make personal visits to those interested in REACH. “The program was built for farmers and their involvement falls on a gradient. Some farmers are keen to be heavily involved with data collection, demonstration days and videos, but others just want the information or the service. REACH helps all by pooling resources provided by a diverse group of supporting partners.” Today’s farming is not like 20 or 30 years ago, Kroger says. “Farmers are the best stewards we have – they essentially have to be. Without the land, they lose their way of life. REACH is helping farmers tell their stories and making it known how conservation and agriculture go hand-in-hand.” For more information, go to

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