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Making a Difference

Making a Difference

Story by Dee Ann Littlefield

He grew up on a small farm in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, where he helped his grandparents raise cotton, sweet potatoes, and truck crops such as okra, sweet corn and tomatoes. While majoring in animal science at Southern University, he visited a career booth hosted by the Louisiana Conservation Service. He liked what he heard and signed up as a student trainee, working in the Eastland, Texas field office.

Apparently, the training went well, because for the past 34 years, that student, Michael Raney, has been working for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Texas, serving as the district conservationist in Bastrop since 1999.

In that time, he has made an effort to help improve the health of the landscape in Texas, as well as made a difference to the people that help manage the land, which includes NRCS employees.

�I enjoy working with people on the land,� Raney says. �My greatest reward is helping landowners improve their places and seeing the final results.�

�Seeing things that can be improved for future generations is what keeps me going,� says the NRCS career veteran.

Raney is also concerned about the future generations of NRCS employees.

�I remember going to NRCS meetings and being the only black person in the room,� Raney says. �That told me there was a need for diversity in our agency.

�The way I saw it, the only way to get things done is to get involved,� he says.
 
Raney served on the NRCS Texas Civil Rights Committee for six years and from 2000 to 2004 he served as the NRCS Texas Black Emphasis Program Manager in an effort to recruit more black employees.

Raney has worked in seven different field offices and has noticed the diversity makes a difference to landowners too.

�In working with landowners across the different areas that I have been, they feel more comfortable working with people from their own race,� Raney says. �In fact, I even get the comment sometimes, �We are glad to see someone like you in this position.��

For that reason, Raney has made extra efforts to recruit black employees, especially females. He has successfully recruited young employees from both rural and urban backgrounds. Raney got his nephew interested in the agency when he was in high school and he is now working with NRCS in Louisiana as a student trainee.

�They don�t all work out,� he says. �NRCS isn�t for everyone. But the ones that have stayed, I have really enjoyed watching. Seeing how their careers are progressing has been one of the highs of my careers.�

While Raney reaches many potential NRCS employees through career fairs at colleges, he says black enrollment in agriculture colleges has dwindled in recent years due to lack of funding and support in the college system.

That doesn�t stop Raney�s recruiting and education efforts though. He presents NRCS information at local school events or helps host field days for school children.

�One of the things I have always advocated was getting kids exposed to agriculture at a young age,� he says. �It peaks their interest so they might go on to pursue a career in agriculture.�

As hard as Raney works to get more black employees in the agency, he works equally hard to make sure minority land owners are aware of NRCS programs and technical assistance. He has worked with Wade Ross, founder of the Texas Small Farmers and Ranchers Community Based Organization, to help get conservation information to more landowners. In fact, Raney and Dennis Thomas, Central Texas RC&D coordinator, are currently in the process of organizing some informational meetings for minority landowners in central Texas.

Even Raney�s �down time� activities and hobbies reflect his love for the land and giving back to people. He enjoys hunting and fishing, and serves his church cooking and catering for different events.


Bastrop District Conservationist Michael Raney addresses a group of Hispanic students and college professors touring the state learning about NRCS and working with landowners. Raney focused on educating the students on the planning process and practice implementation during the field day. Raney is committed to educating landowners in all aspects of land management and conservation practices. He recently gave a presentation to a group of landowners at a fish pond management field day.

Raney is committed to educating landowners in all aspects of land management and conservation practices. He recently gave a presentation to a group of landowners at a fish pond management field day.

Raney tries to bring awareness to NRCS programs and technical assistance every chance he gets. Here he is pictured (center, holding proclamation) Bastrop County Judge and the commissioners giving him a signed proclamation recognizing NRCS 75th anniversary.

Raney tries to bring awareness to NRCS programs and technical assistance every chance he gets. Here he is pictured (center, holding proclamation) Bastrop County Judge and the commissioners giving him a signed proclamation recognizing NRCS 75th anniversary.  

Bastrop District Conservationist Michael Raney addresses a group of Hispanic students and college professors touring the state learning about NRCS and working with landowners. Raney focused on educating the students on the planning process and practice implementation during the field day.