Farming the hill land of north central Mississippi comes with its own unique set of challenges, not the least of which are erosion and drainage.

For Coley Little Bailey Jr. and his father, Coley, an ongoing program of conservation measures contributes to their attaining consistently high yields on their 2,700 acres of cotton in Yalobusha and Grenada Counties.

“Over the years, we’ve worked closely with our landlords and NRCS to put in underground drainage, overfall pipes, dikes, and other improvements to control erosion and prevent runoff into creeks and streams,” says Coley Jr.

“We feel very strongly about this; even when NRCS cost-share isn’t available, we go ahead and do the projects anyway. This year, we’re installing six pipes on one of the farms we rent. Some pipes we’re replacing were 40 years old and blew out in last winter’s heavy rains. NRCS did the design work and is cost-sharing three of them at 80 percent, but we’re doing the others at our own expense.

“We’ve got our own bulldozer, trackhoe, and other equipment, and can do the projects with our labor, which works better than if we had to contract them.”

Coley Sr. says, “When we do these projects, we go to the landowners and show them spreadsheets on how the improvements will pay off in better crops and better returns, and also how they will increase the value of the land. Our landlords have been very understanding and cooperative in adjusting our rents to help cover costs of the work.”

Another conservation measure the Baileys use is planting a wheat cover crop every year on 100 percent of their acreage.

“We use 100 pounds per acre and sling the seed out with a fertilizer spreader,” says Coley Jr. “It’s a practice we got into somewhat accidentally. We had some land that was classed highly erodible, so we planted a wheat cover to help control erosion during the winter.

“The following year was very dry, but we averaged 900 pounds per acre on the farm that had the wheat cover, compared to only 725 on the other farms. The only difference we could figure was the cover crop. It not only adds organic matter to the soil, it also provides wind protection for young cotton plants in the spring and continues to help control runoff. After we spray it with Roundup, we plant cotton into knee-high wheat. As weather gets hot, we figure the wheat gives us an extra two weeks of stress protection for the young cotton.”

All their land is no-till except for one 200-acre field they can furrow irrigate, and it’s stale seedbed.

“We made the big leap to all no-till in 1998,” Coley Jr. says. “Before that, we’d been minimum till, just running a Paratill and hipper. For the most part, we’ve been planting on the same rows since 1991.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com