“As a nation we need to renew our acquaintance with the land and reaffirm our faith in its continuity of productiveness — when properly treated. If we are bold in our thinking, courageous in accepting new ideas, and willing to work with, instead of against our land, we shall find in conservation farming an avenue to the greatest food production the world has ever known.”
These poignant words are as much of our fabric today as when the “Father of soil conservation” and first chief of SCS (NRCS today), Hugh Hammond Bennett uttered his sentiment. His critical thinking and highly influential 1928 publication “Soil Erosion: A National Menace” influenced congress and the country to take care of their natural resources.
Today this legacy might look a bit different, but throughout New York communities, local working groups comprised of conservation districts, farmers, state and federal conservation partners, agriculture advocacy organizations, elected officials and concerned citizens are tackling similar concerns. “We’re looking at the bigger picture to see what the priorities are for 2018 that will guide what we do in New York,” said Abby Gulseth, District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at the Marcy, NY, field office.
What is a Local Work Group? The group supports the locally led conservation effort by helping in the decision-making process to craft initiatives and USDA programs with other Federal, State, tribal, and local conservation programs in providing integrated solutions to addressing natural resource concerns. Local work groups are subcommittees of the NRCS State Technical Committee and meet annually to provide recommendations on local natural resource priorities to assist USDA-NRCS in providing Farm Bill program conservation programs in New York.
The local work group responsibilities may include: developing a conservation needs assessment to identify broad conservation goals in solving natural resource problems; identify priority resource concerns that can be addressed by USDA programs; identify educational and producers’ training needs and assist NRCS and the conservation district with public outreach and information efforts.
Within the scope of conversations around New York State by the various groups, concerns over soil erosion, soil health, stream bank degradation, flood mitigation and worries about combatting invasive plants and insects rose to the top.
Other topics garnered attention such as winter spreading regulations, the proliferation of manure storages, forestland management improvement, grassland bird and wildlife habitat expansion, cover crop implementation, food security act compliance, increasing beginning farmer funding, a possible TMDL designation for the Mohawk/Hudson River Watershed, addressing program ranking criteria transparency, climate change effects, getting more resource staff in the field and working with the media more, to showcase success stories of conservation.
In addition to the format, each local work group, representing their NRCS area field team, could submit one EQIP proposal and one AMA irrigation proposal. A separate form was shared amongst the participants to be used for each proposal. The process will not replace the typical NRCS-EQIP fund allocation process but instead give the specific group the opportunity to apply for additional, dedicated funding to focus on a specific resource concern, if they choose. For information contact Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, Tammy Willis at 315-477-6503.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities to pool resources, share common sense solutions and work together in helping our natural resources and communities to thrive,” said Donna Purdy, Oneida County USDA Farm Service Agency Executive Director.