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High Hill Farmer, Conservationist Knows Value of Environmental Programs

Bob Ridgley kneels in a sea of green cover crops and performs some mind mathematics. Some of the people in the group visiting his farm that day are not as well versed in livestock economics or math, so they just nod in agreement when Ridgley says the 32-acre paddock of forage radishes, forage turnips, cereal rye and cereal oats will feed 120 head of cattle for about $64 per day for a couple weeks in the fall and about a month in the spring, and that’s not bad.

One of the people in the field with Ridgley that day is Tammy Teeter, district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. What Teeter knows is that, in addition to providing an economical source of food for Ridgley’s cattle, the cover crops will provide protection from soil erosion at the surface while loosening the soil and improving infiltration beneath the surface. And both of those things will protect water quality by reducing runoff.

Teeter and Ridgley know each other well because when Ridgley is not helping farm about 2,000 acres, along with his two sons, near High Hill, Missouri, he works as a technician for the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District. And the local district and its federal agency partner share office space in the local USDA Service Center.

Ridgley, therefore, knows what local and federal programs are available to help farmers operate more efficiently and in ways that protect the state’s natural resources. And he uses them.

In addition to having received cost-share payments for his cover crops, Ridgley has received financial assistance through NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for no-till, grazing management, nutrient and pest management, installing water lines and tanks, edge feathering, pasture improvement, and rotational grazing. Through another program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Ridgley receives assistance to improve pollination, to stabilize nitrogen, and for using a bar that flushes wildlife from pastures ahead of the mowers. He also has utilized cost-share funds from the SWCD to install conservation practices, as well as cost-share funds from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to improve his timber stand.

“If there’s a program out there that anybody can benefit from, they ought to take advantage of it,” Ridgley says. “We started with regular cost share in the early 80s when Granny started putting in waterways and terraces on the farm.”

While Ridgley appears to have inherited some of his grandmother’s early innovator tendencies relative to preserving natural resources, he knows that others are more likely to adopt conservation practices if they know what to expect. So Ridgley uses his farm for grazing schools, field days and tours to help get the message out.

“Bob has been a good guinea pig too,” says Sarah Szachnieski, NRCS resource conservationist. “He will put practices in, and after people see the practices in place at Bob’s, they will go ahead and sign up for the programs themselves.”

As both a provider and user of conservation programs, Ridgley knows first-hand the value of the financial assistance and the free technical assistance provided by NRCS, MDC and local SWCDs.

“Without these programs, like EQIP and cost-share, a lot of the necessary conservation work would not get done,” he says.

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