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2012 Annual Report Soil Health Success Story

2012 Annual Report - Retired Physician Prescribes Treatment for Soil Health on 1,800-acre Monroe County farm

Dr. John Mayo, a retired physician from Houston, Texas, has written thousands of prescriptions in his career, but one of the most lasting has been for the health of the soil on his 1,800-acre farm in Monroe County, Arkansas.

By using cover crops and no-till, Dr. Mayo is improving soil quality, breaking up soil compaction, bringing nutrients to the surface and providing filtration that improves water quality.

“I’ve been using cover crops since I started farming 10 years ago,” Mayo said.

Today, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) losses from agricultural land into surface and ground water are causing major concerns especially when the waters drain into the Gulf of Mexico. The agricultural community is being asked to develop sustainable best management practices for both N and P that minimize nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) and dissolved phosphorus (PO4-), losses to water and have a positive impact on water quality improvements.

For the first several years, Mayo grew cotton and has since switched to corn and soybeans. Last fall, he enrolled 200 acres in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and planted clover and triticale (a wheat and cereal rye cross). Although only 200 acres was enrolled in EQIP, he planted the cover crop on the entire 1,450 acres he farms.

“Cover crops improve soil quality (soil health), improve water quality, and reduce soil erosion by wind and water,” said John Lee, Natural Resources Conservation Service agronomist in Arkansas. “Long-term use of cover crops increases water infiltration and reduces runoff.”

Cover crops can directly affect water quality by reducing the quantity of nitrate-nitrogen in soil available for leaching into water and reducing the quantity of dissolved phosphorus available to move into surface water through surface water runoff.

By using no-till on his acreage, Mayo also reduces soil loss and sediment runoff. And with his farm sitting within a mile of the White River, the environment benefits downstream into the White and Mississippi Rivers.

“My farm lies between Big Cypress Creek and Big Creek which flows to the White River. The lower reaches of my farm are within a quarter mile of the White River,” Mayo said.

“By slowing erosion and runoff, cover crops and no-till farming reduce nonpoint source pollution caused by sediments, nutrients and agricultural chemicals,” Lee said. “These practices also prevent nitrogen from leaching into groundwater by reducing excess soil nitrogen.”

Besides the environmental benefits, Dr. Mayo has noticed an increase in wildlife on his property. He said deer really like the triticale and clover and when the nearby White River National Wildlife Refuge floods the deer migrate to his fields. Turkeys also frequent the farm and use the cover crops for nesting and food.