Mississippi | Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station | Southern Region
Agriculture, at $7.51 billion, is Mississippi's top industry, employing approximately 29 percent of the state's workforce in some capacity. Mississippi has more than 42,000 farms and more than 10.9 million acres of farmland, mixed between small and large operations. Most of the row-crop agriculture in the state is located in the Delta region, an alluvial plain along the Mississippi River in the northwest portion of the state; however, all areas of the state have some form of agriculture. The intensive nature of these production systems and the proximity of the Delta region to the Mississippi River make non-point-source pollution from agricultural runoff a significant environmental management challenge for this region.
The goal of Mississippi State University's Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat (REACH) program is to create a network of cooperative farms in Mississippi, with variable agricultural systems, degrees of conservation initiatives, and ecosystem monitoring to illustrate the success of conservation practice implementation. REACH and its collaborators collect data to quantify the contribution of conservation practices. This includes data on water quality, specifically nutrient and sediment in runoff, which is used to quantify BMP efficiencies. Additionally, data are collected on the quality and quantity of water available for re-use in on-farm storage reservoirs, a practice that addresses both of Mississippi's key concerns with regard to water resources. Since the program is producer driven, the goals focus on reaching producers.
As water from agricultural fields drains, high concentrations of fertilizer nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, can be carried downstream. These nutrients promote algal production and microbial decomposition in downstream coastal ecosystems like the Gulf of Mexico, which in turn decreases vital oxygen levels. REACH has enrolled 51 farms, representing over 126,000 acres. These farms provide producers, conservationists, educators, and policy makers with key information to better implement and advocate management practices oriented toward various local and regional objectives (e.g., targeted nutrient reductions, agricultural production system improvements, habitat restoration).
Protecting water quality and quantity is significant. Monitoring water runoff and determining new ways for agricultural producers to conserve water resources saves the alluvial aquifer from depletion and the Gulf of Mexico from areas of hypoxia.