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Where do the crops go?

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Delta Agriculture

Some products used in state; others go far away

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ven if you’re not a farmer, it’s obvious where corn, soybeans and cotton come from in the Delta. No alert Delta student is going to think corn comes from the Greenwood Market Place or cotton from J.C. Penney. But after Delta farmers raise and sell their crops, where do they end up? “That’s a good question,” replied David Arant Jr., a rice farmer in northern Leflore County. He and his family raised about 1,000 acres of the county’s 5,034-acre rice crop in 2018. Arant and his wife, Rebekkah, said they understood that 83 percent of the rice Americans eat is raised in the United States, but this statistic doesn’t account for exports. The Arants sell estate rice, Delta Blues Rice, to restaurants, grocery stores and specialty shops, but the bulk of the Arant crop is shipped to two locations in Greenville and from there, where? Call Candy Davis, they suggested. Davis, who lives outside of Shaw, is active in rice promotion. She called Producers Rice Mill in Greenville and returned with a fact. “It’s 60/40,” she said, so 40% of the Delta’s rice ships to other countries. She noted that rice is sold not only for human consumption but also for pet food, and Davis offered another figure: U.S. customers eat “26 to 27 pounds of rice per person per year.” She said the figure is somewhat misleading, includes rice sold for pet food and doesn’t account for the “brokens” used for making beer. Delta rice, which hasn’t been commingled and packaged for international companies, is available through specialty brands, such as Delta Blues and Two Brooks, also raised in Leflore County. Producers Rice Mill packages and sells rice that can bought in Delta grocery stores, such as the Kroger in Cleveland. It’s grown, sold and processed, and then “it comes back to your table in the Delta,” Davis said. The same with catfish, according to Bobby Giachelli, the marketing manager at America’s Catch in Itta Bena. The company processes 30 million pounds live weight of catfish each and every month, some of it purchased from catfish farmers and some raised in ponds around its processing plant. “We sell coast to coast, north to south,” Giachelli said. “... We sell to the U.S. military in huge volumes. The Middle East is huge.” With the reach of America’s Catch through its military clients to consumers around the world, it’s possible that a

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jáëëáëëáééá=aÉäí~=ÅçêåI=ëçóÄÉ~åëI=êáÅÉ=~åÇ=çíÜÉê=Åêçéë=~êÉ=ÅçåëìãÉÇ=áå=éä~ÅÉë=ÄçíÜ=åÉ~ê=~åÇ=Ñ~êK= service member from the Delta could sit down in another country to a plate of catfish raised at home. Giachelli said local folks can find America’s Catch catfish at Greenwood Market Place, and a big purchaser of the fish is Walmart. “We have had that account since 1998,” he said. The fish is branded as Great Value and marked as U.S. farm raised, without mention of America’s Catch, although numbers on the packaging link the fish to the Itta Bena processor. Other food crops can be traced to processing plants as well. Ricky Belk, who farms about 10,000 acres of corn and in Leflore and JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ soybeans Tallahatchie counties, said about 95 percent of “We sell coast to coast, his corn is sold to chicken feed mills in the more north to south. ... southern parts of the state. His soybeans are We sell to the U.S. sent to Express Grain, the Leflore County commilitary in huge pany that plans to open a biodiesel plant in volumes. The Middle soybean Greenwood by June. According to the U.S. East is huge. ’’ Department of Agriculture, Leflore Bobby Giachelli growers harvested more than 9 million bushels of of America’s Catch JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ corn in 2018. “A half of Mississippi’s corn production mainly goes into the Mississippi poultry and catfish industries,” said David Lavender, Express Grain’s general manager. “A good half is eaten by our chickens.” Lavender recalled 2013, a very big year for Mississippi corn. Prices were strong, Mississippi had a good crop, the Midwest’s carryover supply from 2012 was low while demand was high. “Everybody in Illinois needed the corn,” he said. Mississippi’s corn is harvested in August, and the Midwestern harvests aren’t until late September or early October. As a result, Express Grain was loading a train of cars — more than a mile long — every 28 to 30 hours over a 10-day-to-two-week period. “It was totally against the grain,” Lavender said. Express Grain’s new biodiesel plant will use oil made from homegrown soybeans. Leflore growers produced around 7.4 million bushels of beans in 2018. Express Grain expects to process soybeans for feed — poultry, swine and cattle — and to crush beans for oil, using a chemical process to render about 60,000 tons of oil a year. By next month, he said, “we should be online and producing our own biodiesel ... from our own soybean oil.” The

a~îáÇ=^ê~åí=gêKI=êáÖÜíI=áë=ëÜçïå=ïáíÜ=Üáë=Ñ~íÜÉêI=a~îáÇ=^ê~åí=pêK=qÜÉ=Ñ~ãáäó=ê~áëÉÇ=~Äçìí=NIMMM=~ÅêÉë=çÑ=iÉÑäçêÉ=`çìåíóÛë RIMPQJ~ÅêÉ=êáÅÉ=Åêçé=áå=OMNUK product is mixed with petroleum to fuel trucks, mainly, and will be available commercially at truck stops. Lavender also wanted to discuss wheat and grain sorghum, also known as milo. These are a small part of the business. “In a comparative sense, our largest corn handle in a year was 9 million bushels of corn (and similarly) 600,000 bushels of wheat.” Most of the latter is used for pastry, Lavender said he has been told. “Let’s take a little side trip to milo,” he said, remembering that “400,000 bushels was our biggest year.” He continued, “Three or four years ago, there was a huge market in China. The price of corn here was maybe $4 or $5 a bushel.” But Chinese tariffs doubled the price. Milo, which is nutritionally similar to corn, wasn’t covered by the tariffs. “Milo was overlooked, and the trade eventually realized they could get into China.” The oversight was corrected, so demand slacked. “Most

of the milo is going to export, I think,” he said. “But the economics aren’t there, so it’s not being grown.” According to the Farm Service Agency in Greenwood’s list of certified acres, Leflore County had 100 acres of wheat, 628 of peanuts, 820 of milo, 123,933 of soybeans, 5,034 of rice, 39,254 of cotton and 59,996 of corn. Cotton’s still important. Mike Sturdivant Jr. of Itta Bena, a farmer and board chairman of Staplcotn, said the cotton marketing cooperative sends the cotton it handles to mills in the United States and abroad. Most of the U.S. mills are in Southeast. “About half of its cotton is shipped to mills domestically, and about half of it to 20 different countries — Bangladesh, Vietnam, Mexico,” he said. “It just depends.” He said he doesn’t know where the cotton he farms ends up — and never has. “It could be in a shirt on my back,” he said. “I have no idea.” n


Homegrown talent

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Wade Inc. and John Deere TECH Program

Employees learn skills that have long-term value

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hÉáíÜ=páããçåëI=äÉÑíI=ëÉêîáÅÉ=ã~å~ÖÉêI=~åÇ=ëÉêîáÅÉ=íÉÅÜåáÅá~å=j~íí=^åÇêÉïëI=ÄçíÜ=~í=t~ÇÉ=fåÅKÛë=dêÉÉåïççÇ=ÇÉ~äÉêëÜáéI=ëí~åÇ=áå=Ñêçåí=çÑ=~=gçÜå=aÉÉêÉ=Åçííçå=éáÅâÉêK= o find talented service technicians, Wade Inc. is growing its own while offering an opportunity at a free education, a guaranteed job and the development of a skill set that’s in high demand nationwide. “The way we look at it is the talent pool in Mississippi, the Delta, the United States, the world, there is a lacking of skilled technicians out there, so this is an effort to grow your own technician,” said Ben Hargett, Wade’s human resources director. Wade began offering the two-year John Deere TECH program as a way to develop certified John Deere certified technicians in the area of its 13 locations — Greenwood, Batesville, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Columbus, Greenville, Grenada, Hernando, Indianola, Pontotoc, Tunica, Vardaman and Webb. “We give them an opportunity to have a lifelong career,” said Hargett, who is the point of contact for all of Wade’s ag tech recruiting. “It doesn’t matter what dealership you go to; that’s the biggest need of every John Deere dealer.” The dealership works with Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, which is the only location in the state to offer the ag tech curriculum and one of fewer than 20 in North America. The duties of a John Deere service technician includes maintaining, repairing and setting up equipment. Each tech is able to diagnose and fix equipment issues that the

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“This is our way to take somebody with a desire and good work ethic, train them and give them the skill set. ’’ Ben Hargett

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untrained eye won’t see, Hargett said. “The ultimate goal is to get our customers up and running as quickly as possible and make sure that they don’t go back down,” he said. A career as a service technician is ideal for those who have an interest in agriculture or working on equipment or vehicles. However, Hargett said the main quality he looks for in prospective ag tech students is “that work ethic, that desire, that want” to do the job. “This is our way to take somebody with a desire and good work ethic, train them and give them the skill set,” he said. To enter the program, students must have a high school diploma or a GED equivalency, make a 15 or higher on the ACT and meet all of the admission requirements to Northwest. The ag tech program is private, which means students must have and maintain a John Deere dealer sponsorship.

In order to obtain a sponsorship from one of Wade’s locations, prospective students must go through two rounds of interviews — one with Hargett and one with the management at the sponsoring location — and a campus tour. Wade also requires students to each have a co-sponsor who attends the initial interview. “A co-sponsor could be parents, grandparents, spouses, relatives, guardians, we’ve had preachers, whoever is backing you,” he said. After a student has gone through the process, has been offered a spot in the program and has committed, the entering freshman students get a taste of their future career during a summer internship before their first semester at Northwest. “They shadow an advanced-level or senior-level technician throughout summer, and it gives them insight into what they are getting into, and it clears up any misconceptions about what you thought the job or your career may or may not be,” said Hargett. He said two of the future technicians’ biggest success factors are the co-sponsor and the summer internship. Each year, Hargett aims to recruit 13 prospective students — one for each Wade location. “We could afford to put one at each location right now — more than one if we had to,” he said. “John Deere tasks us every year with recruiting a certain amount of

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technicians. Our goal is to have half of our workforce be technicians.” In his more than eight-year career as human resources director, Hargett has hired 65 techs through the program. He currently has 11 commitments from prospective students for the upcoming fall semester at Northwest and three sophomores. “That goes back to it being selective,” he said. “We’re not just taking anybody. You have to earn your way in.” Hargett said the program is at an alltime high in popularity. “Northwest can accept 25 to 28 students in a class, and Wade Inc. tries to be responsible for 13 to 15 alone,” he said. “We’re easily the biggest dealer involved.” For each student, Wade picks up all educational expenses, including tuition, room, meal plan, books and uniforms. “Anything associated with the academic side, we pay for it,” said Hargett. “In return, a student agrees to a three-year job contract with us.” Wade also finances a tool package for each of its students. “It’s everything they need and more than that,” said Hargett. Wade has a high retention rate after the three-year commitment. “We feel that once we get three years — which essentially is almost six years with us with the summer internship, schooling and the work portion — you’ve bought in and you’ve bought into the culture and you want to stay around.”


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j~íí=^åÇêÉïëI=~=ëÉêîáÅÉ=íÉÅÜåáÅá~å=~í=t~ÇÉ=fåÅKÛë=dêÉÉåïççÇ=ÇÉ~äÉêëÜáéI=ïçêâë=çå=~=íê~ÅíçêK=^åÇêÉïë=áë=~=Öê~Çì~íÉ=çÑ=íÜÉ=gçÜå=aÉÉêÉ=qb`e=éêçÖê~ãK With Wade’s opportunities to advance, Hargett said a job as a service technician can lead to a lucrative career. Keith Simmons, service manager at Wade in Greenwood, began his career at the company as a service technician. “I started when I was 19,” he said. “I actually came in to inquire about a job opening, and that’s when the service manager at the time talked to me about the program, because it was a new deal that had just started.” Simmons was in the second graduating class of the program, which began 22 years ago. “What I enjoyed the most about it was actually spending time in the classroom but also getting to come back to the dealership for internships and be able to apply what we talked

about in school,” he said. After Simmons graduated from Northwest, he was a service technician for 13 years. “I’m always looking to further myself any way I can, so naturally the next progression from being a service tech was moving into a service manager role,” he said. Simmons said he continued to work at Wade after his three-year commitment because of the company’s values — “the way they treat their employees, the history with the company

being a business since 1909 and just the family atmosphere that the owners try to instill around the company.” Matt Andrews is a service technician at Wade’s Greenwood dealership. He began the program in the fall of 2010 and graduated in the spring of 2012. “I grew up on a small farm in Grenada, and working on things was something I always liked to do, and I got the opportunity to turn it into a career,” he said. Andrews said that every

day as a John Deere service technician is different. “There’s a lot of traveling and getting to go out and meet different people and see a lot of the newest, biggest and best things John Deere has out. We’re pretty fortunate in that area around here,” he said. “You get to meet all kinds of people and see all kinds of things. A lot of customer relationships end up becoming friendships over the course of time.” Andrews has a farming background, but he said he’s seen people who had

no experience and were still successful in the program. “There’d be guys come in, and they wouldn’t really know anything, but they would have the ambition to know it,” he said. “By the time they went through this program, ideally they should be able to do pretty much whatever needs to be done to perform as expected in the job.” Hargett said the most attractive feature about a career as a service technician is job security. “I can’t stress the job security of this enough,” he

said. “You enter the program, complete your schoolwork and are a workable employee; you basically have a skill set that is hirable for life. “Every dealer needs technicians. This is a skill set that is in desperate need, especially in Mississippi where ag dominates the industry market.” For more information about the ag tech program, visit ïïïKï~ÇÉáåÅçêéçê~íJ ÉÇKÅçã= or ïïïKÑ~ÅÉÄççâKÅçãLt~ÇÉf åÅçêéçê~íÉÇjp=or call 4536312. n

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Grenada, and working on things was something I always liked to do, and I got the opportunity to turn it into a career. ’’ Matt Andrews

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Family operation Four Farms

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Patridge proud to take over for his father

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he family roots run deep on Four Farm in Schlater. William Patridge, 69, started the operation in 1979 with just a few hundred acres — at a time when farmers were really struggling to make it work from a financial standpoint. “During that time I was young and hadn’t proved myself, and it was hard to find people who were willing to rent me their ground,” he recalls. But his first big break came when Schlater farmer Watson Pillow offered to let him farm 300 acres of Pillow’s cotton ground in a partnership together. The two are still good friends to this day. “He laid it out like I was doing him a favor, but in the end, Watson was helping me out, in a big way,” Patridge said. “He helped me get this started.” Patridge found a way to get through those rough patches and built a future for his family in agriculture. He has turned over the reins to his only son, John Patridge, in recent years. Also, joining John on the management team is his brother-in-law, Chris Shaw, who is married to his sister Suzanne. “I’ve got friends who are 50 or 60 years old who still have to ask their dad about what they can and can’t do on the farm.

That just doesn’t work, so I got out of the way to let these young minds do it,” said William Patridge, who lives in Greenwood. “Heck, I don’t even know what variety of seeds we plant. I go up there and get in a tractor, even take the grandkids with me sometimes, or work in the shop.” John, 33, a 2004 Pillow Academy graduate, is very appreciative of what his father has bestowed on him and doesn’t take it for granted. “He has done a good job of moving aside and letting me do my thing with the farm, and I am very grateful for this opportunity,” John said. William’s first memories of his son’s work on the family include John driving a truck while he wasn’t even big enough to see over the dash. “Yeah, he had it pretty bad as a young fellow. It’s like the farming bug bites and you just can’t shake it. I always figured this is where he would land,” William said. But there were strings that came with the chance to run the farm. First, John was required to get a non-agricultural degree from a four-year college. He did just that in 2008, graduating from Mississippi State with a degree in business administration. John even had designs on following a career in banking. He took a banking

internship in May after he finished at MSU, but there was one problem: He missed his time on the Schlater farm. It was in his blood, and there was nothing he could do about it. “I really quit that internship before it ever really got started,” John said. “I knew I was missing out on a chance to do something special with my family. “My dad worked so hard to make this operation a success and did so through some had times. We made it work while maybe some others didn’t, so I take great pride in taking this thing over. And I couldn’t ask for a better partner than Chris.” William says Chris, 41, is a hard worker and quite persistent, something that helped him eventually join the family. “When he first started dating my daughter, I told him to go away, but he didn’t listen. And now, we’re thankful for that,” said the eldest Patridge. Chris brings a no non-sense approach to the business and misses a lot of time at home with his kids, but he is very appreciative that his wife understands the farming life. “When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. We hit it full speed,” Chris explained. “But when it’s time to play, like in the winter, I love taking the kids hunting and getting

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them outdoors. They already love being around the farm.” Chris is working on his first row-crop farm now, but he has a background in cattle farming in Carroll County. He said he enjoys growing soybeans and corn much more than chasing cows. “It’s been a great move for me. I love working outdoors, and the long hours don’t bother me at all,” said Chris. “We truly have a family farming operation. You hear that a lot, but it’s never been more true than with us,” William said. “There is one thing I never have to worry about — the three of us being at that shop every single morning.” Even though Suzanne and his mother, Vicky Patridge, don’t take an active role on the farm, John said it wouldn’t be the same without all of their support and understanding. “They are a big part of things behind the scenes. They have to be single parents during the busy season because we leave home before they get up and get back when they have already gone to bed,” Chris said. “Now, that’s support.” John and Chris may have to sacrifice time away from the kids at times, but William makes sure he doesn’t have to do that.


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gçÜå=m~íêáÇÖÉ=ë~óë=cçìê=c~êãë=áë=íêìäó=~=Ñ~ãáäó=Ñ~êãáåÖ=çéÉê~íáçåK= That’s the luxury of having so much good help, he says. William drives to Schlater three days a week to pick up his grandchildren and take them to school or day care in Greenwood. “It’s a great time for me to catch up on everything happening with the family because those little ones are always going to keep you informed,” he said with a laugh. William grew up the son of a farmer and

always figured that is what he would do, but he eventually found working so close with his dad wasn’t going to work. He then took a sales job for about three years, but the farm life kept calling him. So he rolled the dice and started his own small operation. “I then learned for myself that when farming is in your blood, it’s hard to get it out,” he said. n

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Carrying on tradition

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Richard Brown

Farmer enjoys seeing crops through to harvest

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Farmer Richard Brown says his business degree has helped him in his work, but “at the end of the day, it’s all about making a crop.” ichard Brown was born to farm in the Delta. Having grown up in Schlater with his siblings and cousins helping out on the farms run by his father and uncle, Brown, 38, can trace his family’s Mississippi farming heritage back to his great-grandfather, W.P. Brown, and his farm in Shaw in the 1930s. W.P. Brown Jr. moved the family’s farm business to Schlater in the 1940s. That history flows naturally to the current partnership Brown has with his father, Craig Brown; his uncle, Bill Brown; and his cousin, Pierce Brown, as they farm acreage from Schlater to north of Minter City. Brown said his father and his uncle don’t ask or tell about the number of acres farmed, likening it to asking people how much money they made last year. In November, Richard Brown was named 2018 Young Farmer of the Year at the Greenwood-Leflore County AgFest. Brown is a Pillow Academy graduate with a 2004 business degree from The University of Mississippi. He’s seen the advantages of his business education rather than seeking a degree in horticulture or agriculture. “The business degree just helps me with

the business side of farming, which is important,” he said. “... But at the end of the day, it’s all about making a crop.” The Browns’ acreage this year will be planted in corn and soybeans, with a return to cotton after moving away from the crop in 2012 when grain prices made more financial sense. “Cotton looks the best on the balance sheet right now,” he said, noting that farmers across the Delta, just as in years past, were feeling the strain of trade disagreements between the U.S. with China. “The soybean market has basically been destroyed by the trade war with China.” Brown lived in Schlater until heading for Oxford in 1999. But after marrying his wife, Amy, 10 years ago, he and his wife moved into Greenwood, where they raise their three children, Mary Landry, 7, Ann Morgan, 5, and Moss, 3. And although Brown can remember helping out on the farm ever since he was 10 or 11 years old, working on irrigation and feeding cows, he made up his own mind to farm. In fact, his brother, Hamilton Brown, went into dentistry and now has a practice in Cleveland and Greenwood. “We were never pushed into it,” Brown

said of farming. “We were allowed to make a decision on what we wanted to do.” Brown says he’ll follow that practice with his own three children. “I’d love for them to farm, but I’d want then to choose what they want to do,” he said. The Browns own about half the land they farm and rent the rest. They have 14 employees, including five South Africans who join them from March through November. He said some of them had been with the Browns’ operation for four years, and he praised them as skilled and hardworking. He mentioned he had the South Africans join his family for Easter dinner this year since they were so far from their own families. From his pickup truck driving through the family’s fields around Schlater, Brown noted how well the corn was doing and talked about how some farmers closer to the river had difficulty getting a crop in the ground during the flooding this spring. His problem was finding enough dry days to be able to get tractors into the fields to spray the corn before it gets too tall. Brown can easily talk about what drew him to farming and what helps him enjoy his work every day.

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“I really enjoy being outdoors and taking a crop from putting the seeds in the ground to taking in a crop in the fall,” he said, adding it is satisfying to watch the fields develop on a daily basis. “It’s not the same thing each day ... which can make it fun but can also be difficult.” As with most people who work hard for a living, Brown said the worst part of farming is “sometimes the hours and being away from my family, not seeing them all the time.” With three young children, it’s difficult during the busy seasons to be at home and awake when his children are, he said. To compensate, Brown likes to take advantage of rainy days during the summer when he can take off for a couple of days and take a family trip, maybe to Memphis. In the fall, he hunts deer on the farm, and he said he likes to check out the acres that were at one time a catfish operation until the family gave it up and let the land return to trees. But on those days he isn’t busy, Brown said he knows what he likes to do. “I mainly try to spend time with my family and my friends when I’m not working,” he said. n


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WILL JEFCOAT 662.299.2414 - MS LIC.# 1059 ALLEN FLOWERS 662.392.0991 - MS LIC # 1071 DANIEL DALE 662.458.2944

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Recharging for the future

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Alluvial Aquifer Project

River water injected to help increase levels

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qÜÉ=q~ää~Ü~íÅÜáÉ=oáîÉê=ïáää=ÄÉ=íÜÉ=ëáíÉ=çÑ=~å=~èìáÑÉê=êÉÅÜ~êÖÉ=éêçàÉÅíK=eÉ~ÇÉÇ=Äó=íÜÉ=rKpK=aÉé~êíãÉåí=çÑ=^ÖêáÅìäíìêÉI=áå=ÅçåàìåÅíáçå=ïáíÜ=ëí~íÉ=~åÇ=ÑÉÇÉê~ä=ÖçîÉêåãÉåí=~ÖÉåÅáÉëI íÜÉ=éêçàÉÅí=ïáää=ïáíÜÇê~ï=ï~íÉê=Ñêçã=íÜÉ=êáîÉê=~åÇ=áåàÉÅí=áí=áåíç=íÜÉ=jáëëáëëáééá=oáîÉê=s~ääÉó=~ääìîá~ä=~èìáÑÉêK ver the years, concern has grown regarding the decline in groundwater levels in the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer, a belowground geological formation that has been the source for irrigation water for farmers. Now, a new project is in the works to prevent continued declines in the Mississippi Delta and replenish the resource. The project, headed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working along with other state and national agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, is developing a method to resolve the problem by injecting river water into the aquifer. “The point of the project is to look at the feasibility of doing groundwater injection to help augment, recharge the alluvial aquifer,” said Dr. J.R. Rigby, a USDA research hydrologist and project lead. The project, tapping into the Tallahatchie River at Shellmound, will utilize three wells and a pipeline, Rigby said. One well will be placed along the Tallahatchie to draw water from the river. Two injection wells drilled approximately 150 feet deep into the aquifer will receive the river water’s recharge via a pipeline from the river well. “We’re increasing the flow of water from the river into the aquifer, which is recharge. The water that we’re pumping from the well to create that additional flow,

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we’ve piped west to where the groundwater levels are lowest and inject the water,” Rigby said. Essentially, when river water is pumped

directly into an aquifer, it can be recharged more quickly than it does naturally by receiving rainfall water from precipitation filtered through the soil.

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According to the USGS, 65% of farmlands in the alluvial plain rely on the alluvial aquifer to produce commodity crops such as corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and catfish. The large draws in groundwater result in huge economic payoffs. According to USGS, Mississippi’s revenues from the production of commodity crops was $1.8 billion in 2017, accounting for 71% of the state’s agricultural gross domestic product. Across the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, the total revenue from commodity crops was $6.56 billion, creating $11.88 billion in economic impact. Despite the region’s heavy reliance on groundwater for sustained economic growth, the aquifer’s water levels have been in decline, ranging from 60 to 90 feet in the Grand Prairie and Cache River areas of Arkansas to 10 to 20 feet in the Delta. Wade Kress, a USGS scientist, said because the alluvial aquifer is composed of sand and gravel and is fairly shallow — on average about 120 to 150 feet deep — it’s easy for rain to move into the subsurface to recharge the aquifer. Unfortunately, in the Delta, rainfall in the summer is lacking at the time crops need water the most, Kress said. The aquifer is “always being recharged,” Rigby said, indicating the problem of the aquifer’s declining water levels is “a management problem.”


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“It’s sort of like a checkbook,” Rigby said. “You have an amount going in and an amount going out. Right now the amount going out is more than going in. We either have to reduce the amount going out or find ways to increase the amount going into the aquifer.” It’s unclear how much water is being withdrawn, Rigby said. In a recent publication, the USGS said more than 9 billion gallons of groundwater in the Mississippi Alluvial plain are withdrawn daily for irrigation. Mississippi’s Governor’s Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force has now requested farmers participate in its voluntary metering program to help the task force understand how much water is being withdrawn in the region. Formed by Gov. Phil Bryant in 2014, composed of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and other state and federal government agencies, the Sustainable Water Resources Task Force addresses the declining water levels in the aquifer by developing ways to manage the water efficiently and to pursue other alternatives. Those other alternatives include the USDA’s river water injection project. The key, Rigby said, “is figuring out which recharge pathways are dominant and how

to accentuate those.” The pilot project in Shellmound could determine if groundwater injection from the river is a sustainable recharging method, and also if the water quality from the river is good enough, Rigby said. Excess sediment in the water will likely clog up injection wells, and an excess of nutrients in the river water may contaminate the aquifer. Other solutions have been brainstormed to recharge the aquifer, Rigby said, though the injection project seems the most promising. “One of the things that makes this project relatively simple is that you know how much water is going in the ground,” Rigby said. “In this case every drop of water that you pump from the Tallahatchie River goes directly into the ground in the injection wells so you know exactly how much you’re getting.” According to an April 2016 groundwater surface elevation study conducted by the Yazoo Water Management District, a water resource organization representing the Delta, the steepest groundwater level declines have occurred in the heart of the Delta, primarily in Sunflower county. “Near the Sunflower-Leflore County line, groundwater levels have declined the most over the past two decades. It creates

kind of a bowl shape with the minimum in the middle and the maximum at the edges,” Rigby said. In fact, there was a particular reason the USDA chose the project’s test site, which is located within the center of the “bowl.” “The spot we picked for the pilot is the closest approach of the Tallahatchie River to the groundwater minimum. At Shellmound there’s a meander of the Tallahatchie River that comes west almost to Highway 49 and it’s about the same latitude as the groundwater minimum so we just have to pump due west. It makes the pipeline as short as possible and all the data we’ve gotten back from USGS suggest that there’s a strong connection between the Tallahatchie River and the aquifer in this area,” Rigby said. Kress said the project will help determine the relationships between rivers and the aquifer. “As water levels in the aquifer fluctuate, the flows of rivers can also fluctuate. As we have more flow in the river we can actually get recharge from the river into the aquifer. And, as the water in the river goes down, if the water level is high enough in the aquifer, the water level can actually provide flow to the streams,” Kress said. “Understanding how well these streams are connected to the aquifers, which

streams are and which streams aren’t, understanding where recharge occurs and where these wells are placed in the system and how complex the geology is, where the sand is and where the clay area is, is very vial to understanding how the system works.” As the project lead for the Mississippi Alluvial Plain Water Availability Project, Kress and his team have been working over the past months to collect geophysical data of the aquifer by air to see changes in the aquifer’s lithology as well as its thickness to create a hydrologic model. That hydrologic model, which Kress likens to a medical imaging system, once complete will allow water resource managers within the alluvial plain to make the best informed decisions to use water efficiently Construction for the aquifer pipeline project is set to begin in the fall, Rigby said, explaining that most of the cost is in the pipeline. Preliminary tests would start within a month after the completion of construction, and will run for 18 months to two years “to get all the long-term pumping data we need.” Should the project prove successful, Rigby said, there’s a possibility it could be replicated on a larger scale. n

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Profile for Greenwood Commonwealth

Farming Edition 2019  

Farming Edition 2019