LandCAN

Preserving Big Black River of Mississippi

Grey Ferris of Vicksburg recently donated a conservation easement to the Mississippi Land Trust. This donation includes bottomland hardwoods and a small portion of pasture on the farm covering 2,114.20 acres.

The Mississippi Land Trust and Ferris negotiated the terms of the conservation easement together. This binding agreement prohibits any development not compatible with a relatively natural preserve. The property's roads, walking paths and a small shed can be maintained. A camp house can be built, but no commercial structures can be built. The terms of the conservation easement protecting the property reduced its appraised value and its property taxes by more than 60 percent. Federal tax law also allows the Ferris family to deduct their charitable contribution from their income taxes for a period of up to six years.

According to Ferris, "Those of us who are blessed with the ownership of natural resources have a responsibility of being good stewards of the land. We should all strive to ensure that we leave our lands in better shape than we found them."

Ferris Farms has a very colorful history. The land was purchased in 1918 by E.B. Ferris, the founding director of Mississippi's Agricultural Experiment Stations. He employed his vast knowledge of diversified agricultural practices in the management of his farm. In 1935 his son, Bill Ferris, graduated from Millsaps College and moved to the farm, where there were many sharecroppers. As the country's economy improved, the sharecroppers left the farm in search of a better life. Bill and his bride, Shelby, were busy raising five children and decided to begin the slow process of restoring the land and creating their own vision for the farm. The bottomland hardwoods of the Big Black River were allowed to return.

The Ferris family were pioneers in the region in employing agricultural conservation techniques. They terraced the fields and provided other erosion control measures to protect the farm. Their son, Grey Ferris, left his law practice in Vicksburg in 1974 to return to the farm where he works and lives today with his family.

Shelby and her daughter, Martha Ferris Kostmayer, also reside on Ferris Farms. Martha and her family occupy a house built in 1825 by B.L.C. Wailes, the first president of Washington-Jefferson College and founder of the Mississippi Historical Society. The University of Alabama has identified Native American burial mounds on the property. General Grant once marched across the property to Vicksburg.

Today Ferris Farm has grown to over 6,000 acres. During the past three years, all cropland has been converted to pasture and there are more than 1,000 cows on the property.

"If you are a landowner in Mississippi and care about fish and wildlife resources, you need to consider a conservation easement," concluded Ferris.