When out-of-state visitors arrive in Belzoni, Miss., Jeremy Jack likes to offer them a few quick history lessons about the Mississippi Delta. “There’s no place quite like this anywhere else in America,” he says.
His parents, Willard and Laura Lee Jack, moved here from Canada. The Jacks identified this unique area of northwest Mississippi as a land of opportunity, and they established the family’s farming operations under the name of Silent Shade Planting Company in 1979.
The Mississippi Delta is bordered by the Mississippi River to the West and the Yazoo River to the East; it extends North as far as Memphis, and South to Vicksburg, Miss. “This is not the Mississippi River Delta, where the river enters the Gulf of Mexico,” he points out. “That’s 300 miles south of here.”
To be technical, the Mississippi Delta isn’t really a delta; it’s an alluvial plain built up by thousands of years of flooding. Those floods left behind an area that is incredibly fertile and flat. “In the delta, topsoil is measured in feet.”
The Mississippi Delta also is known for its heat, humidity and rainfall. Belzoni receives an average of 56 in. of rainfall a year; that’s nearly double the amount that falls on a field in the Corn Belt.
Water on, water off
Combine those ingredients – flat fields, lots of rainfall and a need for irrigation to fight summer heat – and it becomes obvious that moisture management is critical. “In the Mississippi Delta, one of our biggest conservation efforts goes into water management,” Jack says. “Soil and nutrient management is set by the way we manage water.”
For example, the Jack family does a lot of GPS-guided land leveling, which reduces runoff velocity and prevents sediment from leaving fields. That boosts downstream water quality and protects the Gulf of Mexico.
“By grading some of our fields, we are able to do what we call ‘full irrigation,’” Jack says. “We run some pivot systems, but with our hot temperatures and dry summer weather, a pivot is more of a supplemental irrigation, as compared to the full volume of furrow irrigation.”
Wells pull groundwater out of the aquifer in large volumes. “We pump 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per minute, per well,” he says. “We try to water about 25 acres per 12 hours on each of our fields. This allows us to get the water on, and to get the water off, so we do not damage the crops while we are watering them.”
Furrow irrigation also allows Silent Shade to do a better job of drainage. “We consider drainage to be the most important part of irrigation,” Jack says. “We have to be able to get the water off the field. We have zero internal drainage here – it’s all surface drainage.”
Edge-of-field practices are tied in with the Jack family’s land leveling effort. When they grade a field, they incorporate a “pad,” also called elevated turn-rows, all the way around the field to capture irrigation tail-water. “This allows us to conserve the water, making sure that it goes from the top to the bottom of the field, and then it is directed to one area of the field where the drain is,” he continues. “We use a flashboard riser to slow the water, allowing us to capture nutrients and topsoil before they leave the field and enter the surface water.
“We reallocate the nutrient-rich soil from the ditch back to the field,” he adds. “Using dirt pans and finishing buckets, we are able to move the soil in a field to fill in low spots and maintain the elevated pad.”
Silent Shade also reuses the captured water, using a relift pump to irrigate another field or transferring it to a reservoir from which it can be pumped for irrigation later in the season. “Reclaiming water will allow us to maintain our aquifer for the long term,” Jack says.