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Friday, May 6, 2016

Southeast Missouri's soil and water resources

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I had the opportunity to attend the Certified Crop Advisors Conference held each November at the University of Missouri Delta Center. This annual program was started to assist certified crop advisors with their continuing education requirements.

The four categories are nutrient management, pest management, soil and water, and crop management. I have been able to participate both to learn and to present at this conference. I especially enjoy visiting with the participants during the breaks and meals.

I arrived in Southeast Missouri in 1990 to accept the agronomy specialist position in Dunklin County. It didn't take me long to realize that Southeast Missouri was unique in crop production compared with the rest of the state. At that time, seven of the top ten counties for row crop production were located in Southeast Missouri. With our alluvial soils and groundwater resources, we have many advantages over the rest of the state and we compare favorably with the entire delta states.

As I was researching changes in cotton management and production over the years, I was reminded that Southeast Missouri has a strong heritage in cotton production. My background prior to arriving in Southeast Missouri had been agronomic research in cotton, rice, corn, and grain sorghum in both Mississippi and Louisiana. Having worked in cotton breeding programs at LSU and Mississippi State, I knew of cotton production in the mid-south, southeast, and Texas. I knew very little about cotton production in Southeast Missouri.

I will never forget attending the first Beltwide Cotton Conference after arriving in Southeast Missouri. I was visiting with co-workers from Louisiana and Mississippi. They really had no idea about Missouri cotton production. I had to remind them that Dunklin County had about 120 thousand acres of cotton which was more than either Franklin or Richland Parishes in Louisiana. I also mentioned to them that we had plenty of groundwater and excellent alluvial soils. Although they were skeptical, they soon realized that we had some advantages. Soon after arriving in Southeast Missouri, I learned that our cotton had a slight strength advantage compared with the lower delta states. The same varieties that were grown in Missouri consistently had 1 to 2 grams per tex greater strength over the same varieties grown farther south. This was attributed to our slightly cooler climate.

One of the areas that I looked at in cotton management was the record yields of all of the Delta states which include Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. Arkansas had the highest record yield with 1,114 pounds per acre followed by Missouri at 1,106. I was shocked that we had a higher record yield than Louisiana and Mississippi and Tennessee. Again, our advantage goes back to our soil and water resources. I also learned that in Tennessee cotton production, only about 5 percent of their crop is irrigated. Some of this has to do with the slope of their fields and also not having good water for irrigation. Tennessee's record yield is 945 pounds per acre.

Shortly after arriving in Southeast Missouri, I learned about how much ground water that we have. In some parts of the Southwest, producers are "mining" their ground water. This means that the groundwater is not being recharged enough to keep up with the agricultural needs. So at some point, they will only have rainfall to provide water for their crops.

In the early 1990's, I met Jim Vandyke with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Groundwater Program who presented a program about our groundwater resources. I will never forget one of the statements that he made. He said that we could put center pivots on all of our agricultural land in Southeast Missouri and not seriously deplete our groundwater.

Jim has retired, but the current section chief, Scott Kaden, spoke at this year's program, also gave encouraging news for agricultural producers. He told the crop advisors that the alluvial aquifer that covers most of Southeast Missouri has so much water that we could go 62 years of irrigation without having any recharge.

Dr. Bill Weibold, our extension state soybean and corn specialist, spoke about the corn and soybean crop responses to this year's drought. He emphasized that with our irrigation capacity, we had far less crop yield loss compared with the rest of the state.

We also had presentations about rice production. Dr. Gene Stevens, a crop management specialist at the Delta Center talked about the research efforts to look at the arsenic levels in rice. He showed a pie chart showing the rice growing states. Arkansas, California, and Louisiana are the top three states. Missouri actually has more rice acreage than Mississippi and Texas. Texas production took a big hit during the drought when three counties that produce about 35-45 percent of the Texas crop were not able to use water from Lakes Buchanan and Travis. Hopefully, as the drought lessens, more water will be available to this rice growing region.

One more important finding that was reported at the Conference by Dr. Wayne Bailey, state entomology specialist, is that the Red Imported Fire Ant has been found in 11 Missouri counties. They came in on bales of hay from the south as a result of the drought. Hopefully, the producers can spot treat and keep the ants from becoming established.

University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.

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