Other USDA Capacity – Research Funding | Environmental Stewardship
Arkansas | Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station | Southern Region
Nine Arkansas Discovery Farms demonstrate impact of BMPs on environment on working animal and crop operations.
Arkansas farmers faced several environmental issues including lawsuits related to poultry litter applications, nutrient management on animal production facilities, hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, declining groundwater supply and many others. Stakeholders sought a way to develop and implement Best Management Practices to address the issues and to demonstrate and quantify good environmental stewardship on Arkansas farms.
In 2009, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture chose to launch the Discovery Farm Program with the mission of empowering farmers to be involved in resolving farm related environmental issues. The program involves a multidisciplinary team of researchers, Extension professionals and farmers focused on conducting long-term research and demonstration of conservation practices under real farm conditions. Discovery Farms are real, working farms monitoring edge-of-field water runoff quality and quantity, irrigation water use, soil health and selected indicators of environmental impact using state-of-the-art sampling equipment. “We’re determined that Discovery Farms are guided by the principles of sound science, transparency, partnerships and producer driven,” says Andrew Sharpley, a water quality scientist and co-Director of the program. A Stakeholder Committee, Technical Advisory Committee, and the farmers decide on the monitoring activity on each Discovery Farm. The program is founded on partnerships with a number of stakeholders including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and commodity promotion boards. “Buy-in from everyone involved is essential for Discovery Farms to be successful,” according to Mike Daniels, an Extension soils scientists and co-Director. “If implementing a practice is not economically feasible or ineffective we will soon know that, and together we will attack the issue with a different approach.” Currently, nine Discovery Farms are enrolled including poultry, beef and row crop operations. The effect of various grazing, tillage, and irrigation management practices on water quality, soil health, nutrient loss and other factors are monitored on multiple fields and multiple years by the scientists.
The Discovery Farm Program has reached more than 3,000 people through on-farm tours and outreach events. Program participation has been instrumental in Arkansas receiving the most funding under the USDA-NRCS Mississippi River Healthy Basin Initiative (where eligible farmers receive financial assistance to implement Conservation Activities 201 and 202) among the 13 States in the geographical program area.
The Arkansas Discovery Farm Program empowers farmers to be involved in resolving farm related environmental issues including water quality and quantity, irrigation water use and soil health. The nine working animal and crop operations enrolled in the program are guided by the principles of sound science and transparency in implementing Best Management Practices. Stakeholder partnerships include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and commodity promotion boards.