Posts Tagged ‘NRCS’

The NRCS has done us a lot of favors. OK, beyond favors—they have actually given us money to offset the costs of several conservation projects on the farm. So we thought we would return the favor and help them promote Ken Burns’ new film, THE DUST BOWL, which premiers Sunday and Monday (November 18 and 19) on PBS. The film chronicles the man-made ecological disaster in the great plains in the 1930s that engendered the NRCS. In light of the planet’s changing climate, we agree that the story of the dust bowl is “a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our peril.”

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We had the great honor of hosting a grazing seminar by Jim Gerrish last weekend. We converted Steve’s garage into a little classroom, where Jim unloaded his grazing wisdom on us for two exhausting and exhilarating days. Of course, we also toured our pastures, where we had a chance to implement some of the skills and techniques we were learning. I have been to a lot of grazing seminars, pasture walks and lectures, and I can say without the slightest hesitation that Jim’s was by far my favorite. Most academics I have met from the Monsanto-funded land-grant universities roll their eyes at the idea of grass-finishing beef. Jim was a professor for 20 years at the University of Missouri, so he can cite scientific research with the best. AND he is a big advocate of grass-finishing.

Thank-you to the Granite State Graziers for producing the event and to the NRCS for providing the grant that paid for it. Also, thank-you to Craig Fournier, Doug Hamm, and Denise Fournier for setting a very high bar with the catering!

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Federal Budget Debate

October is a very busy month for farmers. This year, it is also very busy for the lawmakers and lobbyists who are working out how much the federal government will spend on agricultural programs. We understand and support the idea that the government must not spend beyond its means, and that agricultural spending must be cut in line with everything else to balance the budget. But we would like to defend a small part (3%) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget that many people don’t understand: the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Most people know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to prevent people from harming the environment. But while the EPA is telling everybody what they are doing wrong, the NRCS is actively helping farmers do things right. The NRCS provides expert consulting and funding for farm projects that benefit the environment. This may sound self-serving coming from a farmer who has directly benefited from NRCS funding, but the carrot-and-stick system really works.

Last week, a group of conservation organizations sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that says it all.

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Extreme Sand

This is what our lower field looked like yesterday. Did we misread the instructions for the Cornell soil test? No. With help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, we are trying to dig a shallow well. I say “trying” because it is not working. After a couple of inches of top soil, the next 16 feet is all sand.

But actually, from a soil testing point of view, this pit makes a dramatic point. Before we started grazing livestock here, our farm was tilled and planted with row crops for generations. Sandy soil makes for easy plowing—there are no rocks at all. But tilling reduces soil organic matter, especially in sandy soil. We are now left with barely a thin film of topsoil. Grazing will reverse that trend, but it will take generations for the topsoil to grow to a significant depth. I’m looking at this photo and thinking this field is a perfect place to experiment with biochar.

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Keeping it Clean

The NRCS has given us a grant to install a culvert where our farm road crosses a seasonal stream to help us keep the livestock out of the stream. We are also beefing up our fencing along the stream. This is a shot of one of Kevin Sweeney’s guys putting on the finishing touches.

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We’re EQUIPed

There is nothing like having a giant excavator working on your property to get the neighbors to stop by, asking what on earth is going on. The answer: we just received a grant from the NRCS EQUIP program to fund a number of projects, including repairing this section of road that was badly eroded. In this photo, it kind of looks like a road to nowhere (which has been known to happen with government projects), but really it connects our upper and lower fields. The old road was like a river when it rained and a sheet of ice in winter. The new one will be a huge improvement, except that driving the tractor up and down it in winter will be nowhere near as exciting as it used to be.

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Soaking up Advice

I had a really nice visit today from Chad Cochrane, our local District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. We took a walk in the pouring rain and talked about all our conservation concerns (fencing off a seasonal stream, controlling erosion on a hillside, dealing with soil impact in high use areas, etc.). Chad had some great advice, including which projects might be eligible for funding under the EQUIP program of the 2008 Farm Bill. Whether or not we get the funding, Chad is a great example of what I  wish the government could always be: efficient, highly competent, and really out to help us.

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