Dhu Thompson says Delta Plastics’ new H2O Initiative can help Delta farmers save up to 1 trillion gallons of irrigation water each year.
That’s a significant amount of water, especially when you consider how much the water table has been declining in areas like the Grand Prairie of Arkansas and in the South Mississippi Delta around Belzoni.
Thompson, who founded Delta Plastics with his wife, Mary Ellen, 18 years ago, was asked how serious the water availability situation has become following his announcement of the new H2O Initiative at a press conference at the company’s headquarters in Little Rock, Aug. 14.
“It can be very serious. We’re already in a situation of diminishing aquifers,” Thompson said. “When you have heated summers, there’s a huge amount of water being pumped out of the aquifers. When we can save 20 percent based on a software program and farmer participation, That’s a big number.”
If anyone knows something about irrigation in the Delta region, it’s Thompson. Delta Plastics makes most of the thousands of rolls of irrigation polytube that are laid out in the Delta each summer. It also recycles them, converting them into LEAD-approved trash bags
The company sponsors local collection sites and has a fleet of 40 trucks it uses to haul the used polytube to a holding area in Stuttgart, Ark. Delta Plastics uses a special cleaning process that removes dirt and vegetation from the tubing before it is reformulated into post-consumer-use plastic resin.
Under the new initiative, Delta Plastics will provide its proprietary Pipe Planner computer software to farmers who agree to use it to improve their irrigation efficiency – free of charge. (The Pipe Planner software costs between $4 and $8 per acre, depending on the provided service.) The ultimate goal: reduce irrigation water pumping by 20 percent by 2020.
Pipe Planner is “PHAUCET on steroids,” according to another speaker at the announcement. Rick Bransford, president of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas and a cotton, rice, soybean and wheat farmer from Lonoke, used that phrase to describe the program. (PHAUCET is an irrigation efficiency program designed by a group of researchers in Missouri.)
“Having a product like polytube has been a blessing to us,” said Bransford. “And having a company like Delta Plastics that works so hard to get the product from the factory to the farm and back to the factory has been a tremendous factor in helping us. We don’t have the disposal problems we would have.”
Thompson said farmers have more at stake in the initiative than water savings with Pipe Planner, which is a user-friendly, web-based application designed to help farmers create the most efficient polytube irrigation system for their crops. Delta Plastics estimates average water savings of 25 to 50 percent in addition to an average 25 percent reduction in energy costs when using Pipe Planner.
“With all the irrigated row-crop acres we have in the Delta, if you can get Pipe Planner adoption on all those acres, that’s where we know that more than 1 trillion gallons of water per year can be saved out of the aquifer,” said Thompson. “That’s a huge number.
“Also, if you look at the farmers, this all has to do with pumping costs because you’re diminishing time. Where you may spend 48 hours on irrigation in one period, you only do it for 36 hours. Think of the fuel savings. It can be significant financial savings for the farmers. So there are two goals we get out of this: Significant savings out of the aquifer and financial savings for the farmer.”
Also speaking was Arkansas Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Rodney Baker: “Agriculture has been working tirelessly to contribute efficiencies and new conservation practices to ensure the long-term availability of our natural resources. With the H2O Initiative, we're pushing even farther in those efforts.”
Besides providing Pipe Planner for free, the Delta Plastics H20 Initiative will also:
n Create a public/private partnership between Delta Plastics and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Mississippi State University and other universities within the region.
n Host educational forums for farmers, university extension agents, and private consultants focused on Pipe Planner implementation.
n Allow participants to collaborate on the most efficient water use practices.
Besides Bransford and Baker, leaders from more than 25 national and regional organizations representing Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas attended the announcement. They include the following: Arkansas Agriculture Department, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Arkansas Rice Federation, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Arkansas Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Promotion Board, Arkansas Cotton Council, Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, AgHeritage Farm Credit Services, Bayou Meto Irrigation District, Delta Council, Delta F.A.R.M., Delta Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, Louisiana Cotton and Grain, Mid-South Soybean Board, Mississippi Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mississippi State University, Natural Soybean and Grain Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Soybean Forum, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
“We have so much more technology to offer farmers now,” said Bransford. “We believe this is an important step for the Delta region.
“This initiative is the most important conservation effort we have ever launched,” said Thompson. “'Preserving our farmland' has been our company slogan for nearly 20 years. But conservation and sustainability is so much more than a slogan for us. It is a principle that has driven every major operational decision that we have made.”