Gilmer County Success Stories
Reece (PDF) (158 KB) html
James (PDF) (213 KB) html
Watershed (PDF) (319 KB) html
Reece Orchard sits deep in the heart of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For 16 years, Rachel Reece and her husband John have managed a farm operation that includes fruit trees, truck farming, agro-tourism and poultry in Gilmer County.
The operation is a sizeable source of soil, water and other natural resources that the surrounding agriculture community depends on. Along with this dependence, the Reeces realize the importance of conserving those resources and ensuring that use can continue. The couple has utilized the technical and financial assistance provided by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to support them in those conservation efforts.
To address the potential nutrient loading of neighboring water resources by their poultry operation, the Reeces have installed a dead bird composting facility and a waste storage facility. They practice comprehensive nutrient management on their cropland and orchards.
In addition to the nutrient management needs of the cropland and orchard operations, cover crops are planted on vegetable croplands, while permanent vegetation is established between the rows of the orchard.
Integrated Pest Management is strictly followed to ensure no improper applications of pesticides occur.
An Agriculture Chemical Mixing Facility is currently under construction to provide a completely confined system, which will prevent spillage from reaching surface and ground water resources.
This facility will also provide a secure storage area for the chemicals and an emergency washing area for personnel working with this aspect of the operation.
Any time more land is considered for the introduction of cropland or orchard; the Reeces follow the proper steps to stay compliant with the 1985 Farm Bill.
Maintenance associated with the vegetable and fruit production operations is never ending, especially when such intensive care is given to conserve the natural resources associated with those operations.
To help offset those financial inputs, Rachel sought assistance from NRCS through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) so that they could continue doing a good job of caring for the land while improving on some other areas of the business “The public wants to buy locally, and that’s something we want to provide for them,” Rachel Reece said.
The Reeces have already seen the benefits of utilizing the legume cover crops, crop rotations, and other practices associated with the vegetable operation.
“Future generations will have to take care of the land for it to produce if they are going to make a living doing it. That’s what we want our kids to understand,” Rachel Reece said.
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Located just northwest of Ellijay in the valley of Mountaintown Creek is a 400-acre family run farm called Cohutta Farms. Bill James, a second generation farmer, runs the farm with his son, Gene, and son-in-law, Kenny McClure.
Currently the farm has two combined animal feeding operations (CAFO) chicken farms and 175 beef cattle. They rent an additional 300 acres. In the early years, the 75-acre farm consisted of crop production, but today it consists of both a chicken and cattle farm with pastures for hay. “My father had a row crop business that consisted of the production of beans, potatoes, cabbage, corn, peppers, etc. I got my start with him in the 60’s. As the local economy changed, the truck cropping converted over to strictly corn and pastureland,” said James.
James went on to say, “Eight years ago, my son, Gene, and my son-in-law, Kenny, left the timber business and built chicken houses. With the added responsibility associated with those operations, our cropland was converted to hayland and pastureland for our beef cattle operation.”
“The resource concern initially found on Cohutta Farms was water quality degradation, both surface and subsurface, associated with their beef cattle and chicken operations. Due to unlimited access to stream banks by the livestock, and Mountaintown Creek being a trout stream, there were additional concerns about trout and wildlife habitat depletion, and the quality of water leaving the farm and eventually flowing into Carter’s Lake,” said Robyn Ledford, soil conservation technician for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Blairsville.
Today, with two CAFO chicken farms and a beef cattle operation, water quality issues are at the top of the natural resource concern list for Cohutta Farms. With the use of Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) (Conservation Planning), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Partners for Fish & Wildlife, all streams that ran through the pastures have been fenced improving both the water quality and stream bank health and providing a habitat area for the wildlife.
Heavy use area stream crossings were installed to provide a stable surface for the cattle to cross and watering ramps provided a way the cattle could drink without standing in the water. With the fencing of the pastures, a rotational grazing system was implemented and ball drinkers (a "frost free" watering trough where livestock push down on a ball to drink) were installed to allow better distribution of the grazing.
A Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan was devised to safely handle poultry waste. Two waste storage/dead bird composter combo facilities were installed to handle the chicken litter eliminating the need for open pits. All land applications of litter now meet forage needs, and a buffer of untreated area is left along any open waters. “All of the improvements were possible through funding assistance from the NRCS and the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program.
Through the utilization and success of these best management practices on their farms, Gene and Kenny have encouraged other landowners to apply the same practices,” said Ledford. Ledford went on to say, “farmers like Billy and Gene James, and Kenny McClure, rely on the land to make their living, and they do a great job with what they have to work with.
By NRCS providing technical and engineering assistance and funding, they were able to make those improvements within their limited budget, to a level that will last them for many years," said Ledford.
James said the NRCS helped him correct his conservation concerns with the possibility of improvement. “Application of chicken litter on pastures, and the open access of streams to cattle provided several opportunities for nutrient and sediment loading of streams. Through an open relationship and line of communication with NRCS staff, the resource concerns have been addressed, while production levels have remained the same, if not improved,” said James.
“Some of the rented properties were improved through funding from the Upper Coosawattee 319 Project, administered through the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission,” said Ledford.
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September 16, 2004 introduced Gilmer County Georgia to Hurricane Ivan. At this meeting, 14 inches of rain fell in less than 10 hours at the head, and throughout Clear Creek in the Cartecay Watershed. Homes, bridges, roads, and all types of agricultural operations were destroyed. Trees, weakened by a pine beetle infestation, fell and blocked streams. Streambeds were filled with rock and rerouted into new channels while other streams were clogged by blockages of trees, tires, and even lawnmowers.
People were trapped in their homes and not sure if the house would stay or float. Luckily, there are programs available to Americans to help them after the storm. Everybody has heard of FEMA, and their involvement with the aftermath of storms, but who picks up where they leave off? Ag lands have the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to assist; but who takes the debris out of the stream, off the banks, and helps prevent further destruction and potential loss of life when the next storm event occurs?
The answer is the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). EWP provides funding to project sponsors for such work as clearing debris from clogged waterways, restoring vegetation, and stabilizing river banks. After the 2004 storm in Gilmer County, a team of NRCS personnel visited sites designated disasters by the Gilmer County government. Contractors and engineers spent hours preparing contracts and practice specifications.
The county obtained signatures from landowners involved with each project site. When all of the documents were completed according to NRCS policy, and all of the signatures were obtained by the county, the project was released to contracting companies for bids. NRCS provides inspection staff for quality and safety assurance as the project is completed. The EWP program helps avoid the disaster after the disaster
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