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Wiregrass RC&D Hosts a Farmer Workshop/Meeting

Conservation Showcase

 

Tractor laying plasticulture with microirrigation.


Attendees view plasticulture demonstration with micro-irrigation. 

By Fay Garner, Public Affairs Specialist, CMO, NRCS, Auburn, AL

The Wiregrass Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council in Ozark, Alabama, went out of their way to help area farmers, especially small and limited resource farmers, learn about resources and programs available to help them succeed at farming.

The Council secured a national RC&D grant for the “Tri-State Farmers Outreach Workshop” that was held in February at Landmark Park in Dothan.  The 200 plus attendees received updates on government programs and attended breakout sessions of their choice on plasticulture with micro-irrigation and small ruminant health.

Speakers from the Tri-state area (Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) universities and state, federal, and local agencies presented information about programs and services offered by their respective organizations.   Demonstrations on various practices were installed on the surrounding grounds of the park.  Vendors and agencies set up displays inside to give information about their wares and programs.  Outside, a large farm equipment vendor displayed tractors, implements, and other farming machinery so the attendees could inspect the items and talk directly with a representative.

Willie E. Durr, Coordinator of Houston County Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), opened the meeting and greeted those present and William Holman, Executive Director of Landmark Park, welcomed everyone to the beautiful Activity Barn conference facilities and grounds of the Park.

James Currington, Executive Director of the Wiregrass RC&D, spoke to the audience about the purpose for the workshop and thanked everyone for attending. 

Ann Bowers, Outreach Liaison from the Florida Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) moderated a session called Governmental Program Update that featured representatives from Tuskegee University, and federal and state agencies.

NRCS representatives included District Conservationists Steve Yelverton (AL) and Jason Hayford (FL), along with Jack Lewis, Georgia Assistant State Conservationist, who talked about NRCS programs available to the group. Farm Service Agency personnel Aaron Wells (Houston County) and John Dorrill III (Coffee County) presented details about their programs.  The attendants were then invited to ask questions of the agency representatives in a panel discussion. 

Miles Robinson, Director of the Alabama Small Farm and Rural Economic Development Center at Tuskegee University, gave an update on the Center’s small farm issues, community development, markets for new enterprises, and mini-grant opportunities.

Scott Hughes, Chief of the Office of External Affairs for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and Lisa Harris, facilitator of the Alabama Clean Water Partnership, offered the audience information about their programs and progress in increasing the quality and quantity of the natural resources in Alabama.

After a complimentary lunch of barbeque with all the fixings, the attendees were offered the choice of participating in concurrent break-out sessions. 

At the indoor session on Small Ruminant Health, Dr. Maria Lenira Leite-Browning, an Alabama A&M University Animal Specialist, spoke to the group about parasites and control.  Rick Hudson, Regional ACES Agent, gave a presentation on Intensive Grazing Systems and Rotational Grazing.  Dr. Richard Browning Jr., an Animal Scientist at Tennessee State University, spoke about genetic Management of small ruminants.

There were plenty of people interested in the outside breakout session.  The day was overcast, but that did not damper the enthusiasm of the group who loaded onto a tractor-driven, hay bale-lined trailer to go about a quarter mile behind the Activity Barn to view field demonstrations on cross-fencing, solar energy powered water sources, soil testing and fertility, and plasticulture/micro-irrigation.

ACES specialists William Birdsong, Neil Kelley, and Brandon Dillard awed the crowd with a demonstration of laying down micro-irrigation tape under plastic using a large tractor with a special attachment.  The group witnessed first-hand the steps needed to set up the conservation practice and learned that this method of growing crops creates better yields on less land, provides higher quality products, and uses half the water of traditional farming methods.

The group observed how the specialized attachment to the tractor made the raised seed bed then installed drip tape, laid down plastic, and secured the edges of the plastic with dirt all at one time.  The demonstration showed how as little as two people can lay about an acre of plastic and hook up the drip tape to an existing water source all in a day.  The group found out that the drip-tape water system targets water to only the seed bed, thus watering the plants more efficiently.   

The attendees were told that the key to growing crops under plastic is having a good water source and quality seed.  They also learned that you can often replant for three years before replacing the plastic and the crop harvest can be up to three times more than what you normally would get from a conventionally farmed acre.

Fertilizers and chemicals can also be applied through the drip-tape water lines through the irrigation system.  

The demonstration was videoed by a local news person along with some participant interviews.  The day’s events were aired in an extended segment on the local evening news.

The Tri-State Farmers Outreach Workshop was deemed a success by the Wiregrass RC&D staff, presenters, sponsors, and the attendees.  Some farmers said they were aware of certain agencies but were glad to learn of the specific programs available, how they could benefit, and the steps needed to apply.

For more information about the Wiregrass RC&D Council’s events, contact them at 1690 West Roy Parker Road, Ozark, Alabama, Phone: 334-774-2334.

Group listens as presenters give program information.
Attendees learned about programs and services available to them.

 Willie Durr, Houston Co. ACES
Willie Durr, Houston County ACES, welcomed the group to the meeting.

Presenters from GA, FL, and AL NRCS spoke about agency programs. 
NRCS personnel from GA, FL, and AL spoke about the programs of the agency.

(l-r) Miles Robinson, Tuskegee University; and James Currington, Wiregrass RC&D.
(l-r) Miles Robinson, Tuskegee University; and James Currington, Wiregrass RC&D.