Farmers have struggled in recent weeks against the elements, trying to find time to plant and treat crops amid standing water and mud.
Although a burden today, Micheal Budd, a land biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said mud could be the solution to many deep-seated conservation issues facing northeast Arkansas during the harvest season, The Jonesboro Sun reported.
"There could be better conditions to talk about this in, but this could save a lot of fields and wildlife habitats," Budd said.
Budd is the organizer of the MUD Drive, an event that aims to convince farmers to voluntarily stop draining fields after harvest. The goal is to stop sediment runoff and allow leftover seed and crop to develop into usable habitat for waterfowl. It could be accomplished by farmers pledging to use methods for retaining water by boarding fields and stopping risers. A student competition is also being developed.
"By promoting the minimal effort required to board fields and retain water, we are creating a system that benefits farmers, hunters, birders and the environment," he said.
Andrew Wargo, a farmer and conservationist, said he agrees with the goals of the event and has been practicing similar methods for more than 40 years.
"I'm painfully aware what modern farming techniques can do to crop land and surrounding habitats," Wargo said. "I like to hunt, and keeping nutrients in the field is ensuring we can keep the land where people and birds can enjoy it."
Wargo, an Arkansas State University graduate, has been the primary operator of Baxter Land Company in Watson since 1969. The more than 2,000 acres of land produces corn, rice, soybeans, grains and catfish, and Watson said boarding techniques have been used on the company's land since he began operating it.
"You're turning a quality soil every year as opposed to losing precious resources every year," he said.
Both Watson and Budd agree the best attribute of the program is voluntary participation.
"Contracts and government actions are always a last resort," Budd said. "We know we can get people interested without mucking up the system."
Avian enthusiasts and Audubon Society chapters have been the primary drivers of the program's fundraising. Birder Janine Perlman said she is behind the program to bring more waterfowl back to Arkansas.
"We've got to face the fact that many of the birds are in serious trouble, and if we can help through this program, then I'm all for it," Perlman said.
Budd and his fellow biologists started raising funds by personally donating $50 and are encouraging those who sign pledges or support the program to do the same. The funds raised will serve as cash prizes for the primary physical event of the drive, a contest for 4-H members.
The contest will require participants to adopt land and provide new solutions for retaining water. Budd said a specific date will be announced later when weather and environmental conditions are ideal for the experiments.
"It's my first time using this kind of method, but if we can do this, we can leave the next generation with better expertise than we ever had," he said.--Will Bowden, The Jonesboro Sun