Emanuel County Success Stories
Webb (PDF) (256 KB) html
Whitfield (PDF) (225 KB)html
Over 70 years ago Clyde Stephens bought over 75 acres of land outside of Swainsboro and started farming. His farm consisted of pines trees and vegetable crops. The pine trees were tipped for the tar sap and the vegetable crops were used to help sustain the family and the tree farm. In 2005 Mr. Stephens passed away and left his land to his son and two daughters.
Over the years Brenda Webb purchased her siblings share of the land and five years ago clear-cut the forest, hoping to replant the pines with money from the cut. “I wanted to replant the pines with the money from the clear-cut, but by the time I got everything paid off I didn’t have the money to replant,” said Webb. “It had never been clear-cut, it was always thinned and the trees had reached maturity, so I clear-cut it to start over. Didn’t realize how much it was going to cost to start over.”
Webb had concerns with the lack of trees on her land. “Daddy always had a tree farm, he worked the trees, that’s the way he made his living and he loved it and I got my love from daddy for the pines. He would have been upset to know that I had it clear-cut and then wasn’t able to have it replanted. He was always concerned about natural resources of all kinds,” said Webb.
Webb heard about the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service through her son-in-law. “My son-in-law read up on it. He went out on the Web site and got some information and called Sidney (Sidney Lanier, district conservationist), then he told me about Sidney and the program,” said Webb.
In March of 2011, Webb signed a contract under the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program-Longleaf Pine Initiative (LLPI) to replant 55 acres of her land. “Ms. Brenda was persistent because it took her three years and we wanted to help her because we knew she is a limited resource farmer. Her application had been deferred for three years before she was actually awarded a contract,” said Lanier. “The resource concerns for her land are to increase the diversity of the tree species, by planting the native longleaf pine and to improve the wildlife habitat, by planting a species that is more wildlife friendly ,” said Lanier.
Webb likes what has been completed under the LLPI and the people that are assisting her. “They helped me - So far everything is wonderful! They did a really good job clearing the land and were real nice about everything. I’m looking forward to getting it sprayed for the undergrowth and the pines planted. Sidney and Sonya both have been really helpful and really nice.”
Before the pines could be planted the land had to be cleared of debris from the clear-cut and plant growth. “They came in pushed up all the stumps, brush and scrub oaks and did a site prep,” said Webb.
Lanier went on to explain. “To get it ready to plant the trees, it has to be cleared. We can do a light site prep where we go in and spray with chemicals or in her case, where it was so grown up, we had to do what we call heavy site prep, which is when you have to clear the land with machinery. Push it all up in a pile, burn those piles and then go in and replant.”
With this year’s drought, it’s hoped that the planting can go forward by the end of the year. “Should be by the end of this year, we are waiting on rain right now, and they’ve got to have plenty of moisture to plant them. They need to get a good soaking” said Lanier.
Webb’s philosophy is that we have been put here to be stewards of the land and conservation helps to replenish the land. “Conservation replenishes the earth and keeps everything going. I think that plants and trees are the first things God put here – he put us here to be stewards of it. Without conservation, I don’t think we would have anything in the end. If the natural system is destroyed you might as well destroy the world,” said Webb.
Webb is hoping that after the pines are planted that she can get into the wildlife part of the program to help bring back the Bobwhites to her land. “I would love to get in on the wildlife program part of this too - the quail. Things are disappearing and we all love birds and animals in this area,” said Webb.
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Long before the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed the Longleaf Pine Initiative under its Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Bennett Whitfield was growing the pine seedlings on a 6-acre plot of land.
Longleaf pine trees are a native species to the Southeastern United States.
As more rural areas experienced development over the years, the trees were cut down, eradicated, and were replaced by farmland and buildings.
The Longleaf Pine Initiative offers landowners and farmers a cost-share agreement to plant the tree species from Virginia to Texas.
Longleaf Pine forests are rich in biodiversity. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is dependent on Longleaf Pine forests, and is now endangered as a result of this decline.
Longleaf Pines seeds are large and nutritious, forming a significant food source for birds (notably the Brown-headed Nuthatch) and other wildlife.
The Red Hills Region of Florida and Georgia is home to some of the best preserved stands of Longleaf Pine.
In Emanuel County Georgia, Bennett Whitfield has been growing longleaf pine seedlings on his family’s land since 1996.
“I thought growing a tree would be a piece of cake.” Contrary to what Whitfield believed, growing a tree from the seed up was tough work.
Over the years he’s battled pH problems, worms, insects, and weeds.
Now that Whitfield has been able to establish a stable longleaf pine nursery, during growing season the farm holds up to 8 million seedlings.
Eight million seedlings can cover 16,000 acres of land. “It’s taken 14 years to get here.”
Many of the seedlings grown on the Swainsboro farm are sold to landowners who participate in the Longleaf Pine Initiative.
“Our programs wouldn’t work as well without people like Bennett who are out there farming these trees,” District Conservationist Sidney Lanier explained.
Even though he’s gotten the nursery off the ground and profitable, Whitfield has fought problems with erosion on his land.
“Well to be a good soil steward, you have to be concerned about losing top soil and other issues. The land is more than your friend, it’s your livelihood.”
After Whitfield was awarded an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) agreement, District Conservationist, Sidney Lanier was able to aid Whitfield in controlling soil erosion on his farmland.
Sub-surface draining and terraces were installed on the farm to reduce soil erosion.
“Water accumulates on slopes. Terraces break that slope by serving as little banks that direct water into woods or grass waterways.
They save the field from erosion,” Lanier explained.
Whitfield’s irrigation system also needed some work.
The center-pivot irrigation system was retro-fitted and is now a low-pressure system that is more efficient and uses less water.
Whitfield said, “EQIP is a tool for upgrade and modernization to keep up with changes in the economy and weather. In the end, it helps us to be soil stewards.”
Whitfield said because of the EQIP funds and technical assistance provided through the NRCS, water quality has improved on the farm now that erosion has been controlled.
He is also able to use fewer chemicals and herbicides.
As a third generation farmer, Whitfield said he plans on continuing to improve on what he’s doing.
Whitfield is a supervisor on the Ohoopee River Soil and Water Conservation
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