Mississippi conservation directors given tour of Carroll County's working farms

Friday, October 9, 2009
Waving to the camera was Amanda Mathis, the district conservationist for Carroll County, who was tour guide when a group of Mississippi conservation directors visited the area earlier this week, traveling in a large tour bus. Anna Mathews / Carroll County News

BERRYVILLE -- A group of 44 conservation directors from the state of Mississippi came to Carroll County this week to tour sites and see working farms in action.

Included was a visit to the Brent Fry Farm along the Osage Creek in south Carroll County, and a tour of Dripping Springs Farm, situated alongside Dry Creek, also in the south part of the county.

The group has toured Gatlinburg, Tenn., in the past, and San Antonio, Texas. For many, this was their first time to northwest Arkansas and they reported the scenery was "beautiful."

Arriving Sunday on a large tour bus, the group chose to stay in Eureka Springs. They attended The Great Passion Play, toured Cosmic Cavern, and rode aboard the Belle of the Ozarks on Beaver Lake, commenting on the purity of Beaver's water.

Tuesday, their day to tour the farms, dawned stormy and wet but the weather didn't dampen their spirits.

They arrived at the Carroll County Conservation District office in Berryville where Amanda Mathis, the district conservationist for the county, had planned their itinerary for the day.

Mathis said she chose the Fry Farm because they wanted to see a turkey operation and Fry had both turkeys and cattle. Plus, she said "he's got an exceptional example of rotational grazing. It's a super operation!"

She said Dripping Springs, a certified organic garden, was "another great example of alternative and sustainable agricultural."

Mathis said she scouted the route to Dripping Springs beforehand and realized a tour bus could not traverse the main way in because of jutting bluffs that overhang the narrow roadway.

Instead, she said, the bus took another route through the community of Dean, on a well-maintained wide road that would get them close to the farm.

Trucks and wagons outfitted with haybale seating were arranged, she said, to carry the guests around the farms once they arrived.

They had planned a picnic lunch at a creekside pavilion at the Fry Farm, but a persistent drizzle sent them on to the Osage Baptist Church for their midday meal.

Before departing from the Conservation District office in Berryville, Mathis spoke to the group about Carroll County agriculture and the challenges farmers faced.

Nutrient management plans based on soil sampling for phosphorus levels was a big undertaking, she said. The big push to get everyone spreading poultry litter on their land to have a management plan began four years ago.

It is site-specific and determines the tons per acre farmers are allowed to spread litter on each field -- and the plans must be updated every five years.

"We have 793 plans currently," she said. "That is a big job for our two water-quality techs, and those plans have to be constantly updated."

Mathis said the county was experiencing a tremendous amount of rainfall for a second year in a row.

"Every month since April we've been above average, and we had 9.5 inches in September," she said.

An event that affected every farmer in the area was the January ice storm, she said, reported to be the worst in 83 years.

She said fields were littered with fallen limbs and trees, tons of fences were down, and any roadway that was cleared often had to be cleared a second time after winds deposited additional debris.

She said it was a challenge for all, both economically and operation-wise, since some farmers couldn't reach their livestock for a period of time.

Asked about the lawsuit the state of Oklahoma has waged against Arkansas regarding phosphorus content in waterways, Mathis said the lawsuit continues, and it has brought to light some concerns that do need a second look.

Joining Mathis on the tour were Joe Williams and Blake Walters with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, and district board members Gary Grigg, Larry Harp, and Coy Huff.

Office personnel who were instrumental in organizing Tuesday's tour included Jim Matthews, George Cantrell, and Carlin Loftis.

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