Tom Hart_Estill County Farmer | Kentucky NRCS
ESTILL COUNTY LANDOWNERS SHARE CONSERVATION KNOWLEDGE AND ACTIVITIES WITH LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
771 Corporate Drive Suite 210
Lexington, KY 40503
LEXINGTON, KY, April 20, 2012— Thomas Hart and wife Sarah of Estill Co. knew absolutely nothing of the opportunities available to landowners through USDA Farm Bill Programs when they moved to KY in 2005. The couple purchased and settled on their 200 acre farm along the Kentucky River after Tom retired from the Air Force, after a nine-year final assignment at the Pentagon.
During his military career, Tom and friends discussed purchasing land after retirement so they could hunt and possibly raise livestock and be somewhat isolated from the everyday hustle and bustle of their past lives. The Estill County tract fit all those requirements. The farm is adjacent to the Kentucky River for nearly one and one-half miles near the Lee County line.
The Harts’ read in the local paper about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) applications and made a visit to the USDA Service Center in Irvine to inquire about the specifics. Based on a conservation plan developed by local NRCS staff, an application was submitted. The application was eventually approved and the conservation plan was put in place. The conservation plan included installation of two spring developments in their hillside woodlands and piping the water down the hillside and across the road into several pasture paddocks for livestock use. Soil erosion issues were also addressed with four grade stabilization projects where surface water was exiting the 40 acres of pasture fields into the Kentucky River.
Also included is a forest stewardship plan for more than 100 acres of north facing woodland slopes by the Kentucky Division of Forestry (KDF). KDF staff provided a plan based on Tom’s primary objective of wildlife habitat improvement. A Forest Stand Improvement (FSI) effort was recommended to girdle and deaden trees that were competing with higher value soft and hard mast food sources for wildlife. The Harts’ then learned that the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) could also provide incentive payments to complete the forest improvements. Tom used the USDA incentive payments to hire local high school students for the labor intensive treatments. Several students hired have now completed treatment on the entire 100 acres of woodland under Tom’s close supervision. Although Tom has been approached by loggers to sell his timber, he prefers to wait another 10 years or so, and enjoy the improved habitat.
The experiences that Tom and Sarah had with both EQIP and WHIP got them interested in other USDA Farm Bill Programs that might be available. They soon learned about the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) that was rewarding landowners for being good stewards of the land, and of course they were interested. The farm was enrolled for CSP and approved for the woodland acres. The five-year CSP contract requires two activity enhancements that will create shallow water habitat and artificial nesting structures.
Tom solicited a local Boy Scout Troop to construct and install the nesting structures, which provided the Scouts with a conservation project to satisfy rank advancement requirements as they work toward their goal of achieving Eagle rank. The Troop was rewarded for their work with an annual donation by the Harts to fund uniforms, equipment, and summer camp fees for less fortunate and needy Scouts.
Tom summed up their experiences with USDA’s Farm Bill Programs by stating, “This was a great opportunity to improve the property and the environment. But we never could have done it on this scale without the advice, technical help, and incentive payments provided by the USDA.”
Improvements like those completed on the Hart farm using USDA Farm Bill Program funds provide not only onsite benefits, but also offsite. Reduction in soil erosion and sedimentation, improved water quality, improved wildlife habitat, improved forage production, and better grazing distribution were just a few of the natural resource issues addressed.
Landowners interested in a conservation plan and an assessment of resource concerns for their farm are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center or Conservation District office for assistance. There may be a USDA Farm Bill Program waiting just for you.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call 800-795-3272 (voice) or 202-720-6382 (TDD).
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