A Conservation Innovation Grant for $205,343 from the USDA – along with a matching grant in the same amount from Cotton Incorporated -- will help farmers in northeast Arkansas use spatial technologies to adjust fertilizer application rates for optimum yields with less risk of nutrient runoff from fields.

Tina Gray Teague, professor of agronomy and entomology at Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, is leader of the two-year project in the Little River Ditches Watershed located in parts of Craighead, Mississippi and Poinsett counties. The area is known locally as Buffalo Island.

The project is in cooperation with the Northeast Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, which is working with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Agriculture Research Service to provide farmers technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

"This project would not be possible without the assistance of our partners," Teague said.

Many farmers in the region have invested in auto-steer systems linked to the GPS satellite system. This technology allows variable-rate fertilizer application based on soil test data from grid sampling and identifying management zones in a field with characteristics that affect fertilizer uptake by plants, runoff and leaching into groundwater.

Other conservation practices such as reduced tillage and cover crops will also be evaluated on demonstration farms.

"We expect to produce results that will provide evidence for growers, their service providers, and other conservation partners that show improved crop productivity through earlier maturity and higher yields," Teague said. "We will demonstrate practices that can enable producers to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous use without sacrificing cotton yield or quality.

"We expect to observe improved water quality as a result of decreased nutrient loss. Our demonstrations and associated outreach and support activities should help to lower barriers to adoption of site specific management technologies."