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Early County Success Stories

Welch (PDF) (190 KB)html
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NRCS Helps Farmer Meet Conservation Goals

No matter the challenges she faces, Hazel Welch is a woman committed to conserving natural resources. Raised on her family’s farm in Jakin, Welch grew to appreciate agriculture at a young age. “My father farmed. He was into row cropping,” Welch explained that she was right there with him every step of the way. “I drove a tractor before I drove a car. I was my dad’s only son,” she said jokingly.

Even after going off to college and becoming a teacher, Welch wanted to do what was best for her family’s land and spent her free time brainstorming ideas on how to ensure the land wouldn’t end up developed. ”I don’t want it changed over into a sub-division. I want it close to what it was when my great grandparents had it,” Welch said.

Finally, Welch got information she needed. It was during a school day 22 years ago and Welch overheard a fellow teacher talking to someone about conservation programs offered to landowners like her. “My first enlightenment was when I overheard the high school’s Ag teacher talking about CRP.”

Welch later learned that CRP is the Conservation Reserve Program which is offered through the USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA). She admits that it was a long process but finally she became the first to receive assistance through CRP in Early County. “I wanted the farm to pay for itself versus us working to death,” Welch said.

Over the years, CRP has helped Welch establish longleaf pine and native warm season grasses. The program has also helped her establish and manage, through light disking, wildlife buffers around field perimeters to enhance habitat for upland birds such as the Bobwhite quail.

Through her relationship with FSA, Welch learned about the USDA-NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). Welch has been able to do even more conservation planning for her property through technical and financial assistance provided through NRCS programs.

Two Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) contracts, in 2005 and 2006, have helped Welch address wildlife habitat deficiencies on her land. WHIP assisted Welch in improving her forest resources through the planting and management of longleaf pine.

In addition to these practices, WHIP has allowed Welch to develop and manage early successional vegetation by spraying recommended herbicides to control undesirable plants. The early successional vegetation will serve as a wildlife buffer. Prescribed fire was used to also control undesirable vegetation, reduce wildfire hazards, and improve wildlife habitat. NRCS District Conservationist, Steve Cleland said, “She’s a conservationist in every sense of the word. And, you can see that through all the practices she’s implemented on her land.”

Because of her demonstrated dedication to conservation, Welch has been awarded two Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts. CSP is a voluntary conservation program that encourages producers to address resource concerns in a comprehensive manner by undertaking additional conservation activities; and improving, maintaining, and managing existing conservation activities.

The CSP contracts cover forest and pasturelands and have enabled Welch to continue efforts to address air, soil and water resource concerns on her farm. “It’s helping me maintain the farm and making sure it has use in the future,” Welch explained.

In addition to the previous conservation efforts, Welch has converted her father’s 30-year Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement into a permanent easement. She is actively working to restore the hydrology, vegetation and wildlife habitat that existed on these 248 acres before it was cleared and drained for agricultural production.

She said that Georgia’s Easement Specialist, Sharon Holbrooks, explained how easements worked. “I asked Sharon about easements and protecting the farm and making sure that the land wouldn’t be plowed over when I’m gone,” Welch said. Welch also explained that every decision she has made to conserve resources on her family’s land has been to ensure that it has use in the future.

Early County is a designated StrikeForce county in Georgia. The USDA StrikeForce Initiative is designed to help relieve persistent poverty in historically high-poverty counties.

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Silvopasture Maximizes Land Use in Early County

You might not think of a former New Jersey field engineer with International Business Machines (IBM) as a leader in conservation farming, but when it comes to Mack Evans of Jakin, Georgia, that’s not all that will surprise you.

Evans purchased some land in the late 70’s that had been in his wife’s family for more than 100 years and planted it in loblolly pine. “For me, it was an investment,” he said. “After doing some research, I found that farmers can make more money out of saw timber,” he added.

Evans came back to Jakin in 2003 to manage his trees after spending another 5 years with Eastman Kodak. He thinned his pine stand in 1996 and again in 1999 and was receiving a “nice income” without managing his farm.

Evans, who said he gets all of his farm information from the internet, was surfing the web one day looking for information on removing understory vegetation and discovered silvopasture. “I would go on the web at night. I found silvopasture on a USDA web site.” Silvopasture is an agroforestry practice that combines trees, forage plants and livestock management.

He called USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) District Conservationist Joe Wilson, who said, “Mack that’s a great idea!” Current District Conservationist Steven Cleland echoed the sentiment and recommended silvopasture as a good conservation practice because it maximizes the use of the land while helping conserve the natural resources.

Evans, who bought his first herd of cattle in 2003, said that he has noticed his trees growing faster since he adopted silvopasture. He received cost-share funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help plant pasture grass.

He hosts field days on his farm to teach other farmers, and said that he wishes farmers would take better advantage of the research being done at universities. “Farmers out here don’t use the universities as much as they should the researchers do the work and it just sits on the shelf,” he said.

“You’d be surprised at how many people stop and say your cows are out,” he laughed.

Evans would also like to develop a mentor program for new farmers. “There was no farmer I could go to to talk about silvopasture.” Some farmers might have stopped here, but Evans keeps on finding innovative ways of maximizing his farm income.

He rents land 6 months out of the year from his neighbor who is using no-till, a conservation practice that reduces soil erosion and improves soil quality. Evans came up with the idea to rent the land and graze cattle on it during the winter months. “A lot of farmers thought it was kinda weird renting six months but it’s a win-win situation using winter grazing as a cover crop,” he said.

Cleland said that he hopes other farmers will model this farming operation. “He’s innovative in his approach; he’s really put the work in to gather information,” Cleland said. Evans was selected as a participant in the 2005 Georgia Agri-Leaders Forum, whose mission is to provide a forum for developing individual leaders skilled in communications, educated in local, national, and world affairs, familiar with the changing needs of our society, and prepared to meet the present and future challenges.

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