Silent Shade has an ambitious working-lands stewardship project underway. Its 800-acre Ducrest property is being set up as a demonstration farm under Mississippi’s REACH – Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat – an initiative developed by a coalition of farm and environmental groups.
Jack explains that former catfish ponds will be made into reservoirs and a tail-water recovery ditch will have automatic relift pumps to reclaim the water. The farm also will be fitted with flow meters and water quality monitors, allowing scientists to collect data from this closed system of irrigation, nutrients and sediment.
Not only is this system expected to significantly cut nutrient and sediment losses and reduce drawdown of the aquifer, it also will boost habitat for waterfowl and shore birds. “REACH will showcase how good a job agriculture is doing,” says Robert Kröger, assistant professor of wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture at Mississippi State University. “It will also further document that, by farming with a conservation mindset, you see improved production.”
He adds that REACH experts share scientifically researched best practices with producers and landowners. Over time, as farmers develop and implement landscape stewardship plans, REACH will collect a unique body of documentation that shows the benefits of conservation management.
That’s the goal at Silent Shade – to produce at a high level, but to do it sustainably. “We’re good stewards of the land,” Jack says. “The only thing we do not do as well as we should, as farmers, is to show the rest of the world what we do – and to follow that with hard data.”
Data from the REACH farm can provide those hard numbers. “Then we need to take it to the inner cities, take it to the schools and show the kids what we do,” Jack continues. “This is where we differ from most operations. We want to take it to the next level. We want to use this information that we collect every year, year after year, to prove that we are doing a good job.
“Most farmers believe they are doing a good job,” he observes. “Now we just need to tell our story to the rest of the world.”