When it was established in October of 1998, the goal of Delta F.A.R.M. was to enroll 100,000 acres of fertile Delta farmland in the voluntary program's first year. Now, less than three years later, more than 400,000 acres of farmland are enrolled in the program.
Delta Farmers Advocating Resource Management (FARM) is an association of farmers who volunteer to be evaluated in the field of environmental best management practices. Producers enrolled in the program also agree to attempt to accomplish as many environmental best management practices as is possible on their individual farming operation.
“Every acre enrolled makes Delta FARM stronger,” says Philip Barbour of Sidon, Miss., who serves as chairman of the program's executive committee. “This type of program is something that is going to become even more important as time goes on and I'm excited to be a part of it.”
According to program Steering Committee member Billy Percy of Greenville, the goal of Delta FARM is to improve the overall environmental health of Northwest Mississippi while ensuring a more sustainable and profitable future for agriculture.
“Delta FARM is not a feel good organization. It was founded based on science and economics,” he says. “Resource professionals who deal with all aspects of conservation and regulatory laws developed all of our recommended best management practices and operating procedures.”
According to Trey Cooke, executive director of the program, 115,000 acres of Mississippi farmland was enrolled in Delta FARM in 2000, bringing the program's grand total to 410,259 acres. Delta FARM's membership goal for 2001 is 500,000 acres. The total acreage enrolled in the program represents roughly 15 percent of all Delta cropland.
“Our primary concern is to get everybody to implement the recommended conservation practices at some level,” he says. “We also strive to evaluate every acre that is enrolled every year to track improvements at the farm level through time.”
Delta farm evaluates each farm under 5 different categories, including: conservation tillage, water control structures, terracing, grass waterways, grass filter strips, and soil conservation plans.
Barbour says, “Because Delta FARM has come such a great distance in such a short period of time, other states and regions are beginning to look at Delta FARM as a model for agricultural conservation programs.”
The biggest project under development, he says, is the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Initiative which proposes to establish a similar documentation process for all cropland across a seven-state region. The Georgia Extension Service is also currently working to establish a similar program.