Lee County Success Stories
Batten (PDF) (188 KB)html
Thaggard (PDF) (270 KB) html
Jesse Batten may be a part-time farmer but he is a full-time conservationist. In 1971, Batten started farming with only 50 acres. Now he runs a 1,000 acre operation that grows corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and wheat. When Batten isn’t busy taking care of his farming operation in Leesburg, he works as a program technician with the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Because Batten’s office is next door to sister agency USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), he was able to acquaint himself with the technical and financial assistance the agency provides to farmers like him. “NRCS gives good technical assistance. They help in any way they can,” Batten said.
Over the last several years, Batten has nurtured his relationship with the agency and has been able to improve the farm that he and his son Marcus operate. Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Batten has installed a number of conservation treatments on J and M Farm.
One treatment involved modifying pivots by retro-fitting them to a low pressure system. Batten’s irrigation system was also converted from a diesel pump to an electric pump. This change is more cost and energy efficient. “The retrofitted pivots will save me a whole lot of money,” Batten said.
A nutrient management plan helps with fertilization. Batten transports chicken litter from upstate and uses it to increase organic matter in the soil and help improve plant growth. The Battens also needed to address soil erosion. Planting grass in critical treatment areas and utilizing the strip till method have helped cut down on the erosion problem. Batten said EQIP has made a big impact on his farming operation.
“I like taking advantage of the program. It cuts the cost of farming. It provides a lot of savings and more people should take advantage of it,” Batten explained. NRCS Soil Conservation Technician, Melissa Golden, worked with Batten on completing practices on his land. Golden said Batten has taken that extra step and has made it a point to inform other farmers about the NRCS programs. “He steers a lot of applicants our way,” Golden said.
Batten who was named Conservationist of the Year in 2008 for the Lower Chattahoochee River Soil and Water Conservation District believes that more farmers should take a more active role in conserving natural resources. “I let them know to take advantage of conservation programs because we need to conserve natural resources like soil because we need to save all the top soil we can,” Batten said.
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All farmers know that water conservation is a major concern. This year’s drought situation stressed that importance even more. Many irrigation wells in the South Georgia went dry at a time when crops were in need of water the most, leading to yield loss if not total crop destruction.
Zac Thaggard, a farmer in the Leesburg community, knows and understands the importance of water conservation. Because of the drought he had concerns. “I had a need to increase water efficiency in order to conserve water and increase profits by matching crop needs with the correct amount of water at the correct timing,” said Thaggard. He went on to say, “As a third generation farmer both my father and grandfather have worked with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) so to me it was a partnership that I grew up knowing about.”
“Through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) he has installed irrigation retrofits and remote soil moisture monitors to help with water conservation on his family farm. AWEP is a program that focuses on irrigation water efficiency within the Flint River Basin Area” said Richard (Rich) Hosmer, district conservationist in Dawson.
Hosmer, explained how the system works. “Irrigation retrofits are used to make a center pivot irrigation system more efficient. Through the installation of an irrigation retrofit, an irrigation system is converted from a high water pressure system to a low water pressure system. We convert the old style spray nozzles to new rotator or wobblier style spray nozzles on drop hoses allowing for a greater amount of water to be distributed onto the crop area with less chance of drift from the wind.”
Melissa Golden, soil conservation technician for the NRCS in Leesburg said, “A relatively new practice that farmers are starting to utilize is the use of remote soil moisture monitors (RSMM).”
RSMM are soil moisture probes that are inserted into soil within the crop field. Probes read soil moisture at multiple levels within the root zone of the crop. They also record irrigation data and rainfall data through an electronic rain gauge. This information is transmitted to a computer to allow the farmer to read the moisture data at the root zone to determine when the crop needs to be irrigated. This data allows a farmer to irrigate at the proper time in order to achieve maximum yields, maximum profit and maximum water efficiency.
Thaggard believes the new system is the key to maximizing irrigation. “The AWEP program has allowed us to apply conservation practices like irrigation retrofits and remote soil moisture monitoring to our farm in order to conserve water and increase profits. The remote soil moisture monitors are new technology that we have to learn to use - but we believe they are a key to maximizing irrigation efficiency for our crops,” said Thaggard.
He likes AWEP because the program is conserving his water. “The AWEP program helps me conserve water and increase yields through proper irrigation application. With our operation, we are able to irrigate our crops more efficiently through the irrigation retrofits and remote soil moisture monitors that we have installed with the help of the NRCS.”
Thaggard’s conservation philosophy is all about the farm. “I would like future generations to know that it is important to utilize the programs, like AWEP, in order to partner with the NRCS to promote the application of conservation practices on your farm.”
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