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Point Remove MRBI Project Story

Point Remove Wetlands Reclamation and Irrigation District MRBI Project - Willow Bend Farm

Ronnach Day, Conway County district conservationist, discuss the monitoring project planned on a Willow Bend Farm wetland with Ruth Spiller, farm manager.

Ronnach Day, Conway County district conservationist, discuss the monitoring project planned on a Willow Bend Farm wetland with Ruth Spiller, farm manager. (photo by Creston Shrum, NRCS Arkansas)

by Creston Shrum, NRCS Arkansas

Willow Bend Farm, a 1,650-acre cattle farm, lies in the shadow of Petit Jean Mountain, nestled between the Arkansas River and Point Remove Creek.

Fluctuating water levels, along with flooding causes erosion issues on the property.

“My dad used the Soil Conservation Service when I was a kid to help deal with erosion problems. I also need technical and financial help with the erosion issues,” said Ruth Spiller, the farm manager. “I read a lot, but most of the data is from controlled studies. I needed the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to figure out what works best on this farm.”

Thanks to the Point Remove Wetlands Reclamation and Irrigation District Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) Project the financial assistance is also available.

Spiller enrolled 1,456 acres of the farm into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program portion of the project. Her conservation plan calls for monitoring and evaluation of nutrient runoff, waste transfer and utilization, planting cover crops, nutrient management with grid sampling, a structure for water control, wetland enhancement, conservation crop rotation and fencing off the wetland.

A second contract on the property includes heavy use protection areas, a grade stabilization structure and grass waterway.

“It behooves us to know what nutrients are running off the field,” Spiller said. “One of the projects will monitor a natural wetland in one of our pastures to see what is coming into and out of the wetland. This is a great opportunity to learn about what is happening on the farm and gain this valuable knowledge.”

The farm is also one of four in the state participating in the Arkansas Discovery Farm Program. “Discovery farm monitoring will determine the effect of poultry litter management (e.g. application rate, timing and placement) on nutrient runoff from the pasture,” said Dr. Mike Daniels, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. “We will monitor the runoff entering and exiting the wetland to quantify nutrient and sediment storage in the wetland.”

Spiller runs 650 “momma” cows, half calve in the spring and half in the fall. Also about 200 steers are brought in from another farm that Spiller manages. “We grow our own feed on a 350 acre corn field, plant wheat in the pastures and produce silage,” she said.

 “The river is both a positive and negative for this farm,” said Ronnach Day, Conway County district conservationist. “The unlimited water supply is a tremendous advantage but also leads to some of the erosion issues.

“With the Arkansas River on one side and Point Remove Creek on the other, this site provides us with a great opportunity to monitor what impact our conservation practices have on nutrient runoff and water quality,” Day said.

The Point Remove Wetlands Reclamation and Irrigation District is the lead entity in the MRBI project with assistance from Conway County Conservation District, Pope County Conservation District, Yell County Conservation District, Kuhn Bayou Drainage District, Joiner Lake Drainage District, Point Remove Watershed Improvement District, City of Morrilton, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The project area lies within portions of Conway, Pope, and Yell Counties.  The project partners will assist agricultural producers in 15 sub-watersheds of the Lake Conway-Point Remove basin to adopt a systems approach with a variety of core and supporting conservation practices to address natural resource concern of water quality pertaining to nutrient runoff and water management.  They will focus on avoiding excess application of nutrients and water on fields; controlling the amount of nutrient and water runoff from fields into the watershed; and trapping nutrients before they leave the field.