INside NRCS: October 2012
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NRCS Public Affairs
“Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” Launches
On October 11, NRCS officially launched its “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” awareness and education effort.
The effort seeks to increase the use of successful soil management methods practiced by a growing cadre of “healthy soil pioneers” throughout the nation. By highlighting the benefits and techniques of Soil Health Management Systems, a broader number of farmers will be able to explore and adopt the methods that improve soil health.
“Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” features farmers from communities in numerous states where a small but growing soil health movement is taking root—Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Indiana, Utah, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Montana, and Kansas. The specifics of a robust healthy soil system vary from farm to farm and state to state, but all healthy soil systems share a few core principles.
These principles comprise the key messages of the education and awareness effort:
1) Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil;
2) Manage soils more by disturbing them less;
3) Grow a living root throughout the year; and
4) Keep the soil covered as much as possible.
All four principles build soil structure and the biological communities that feed and water crops and other plants.
Through Soil Health Management Systems, American producers can farm in a way that not only improves the environment and reduces input and energy costs, but also maintains or increases production. With an estimated nine billion people on the planet by 2050, farmers will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as they have in the last 500. Importantly, they will need to do it while conserving our precious natural resources.
The effort’s awareness and education components will include fact sheets; brochures; posters; videos; web, radio, and social media announcements as well as local field days. NRCS is also making technical and programmatic changes that will give farmers more assistance in trying the healthy soil methods on their own farms.
Employees can get a sneak peek at some of the education materials.
Other materials will be available for preview for employees at that site in the days leading up to the Oct. 11 public roll-out.
Navigating a CR and Expired Farm Bill
As we enter fiscal year 2013, we have an appropriations continuing resolution and an expired 2008 Farm Bill (September 30).
On September 22, the Senate passed the continuing resolution (HJRes 117) that will fund the federal government through March 27, 2013. Its passage continues direct funding at 2012 levels for most USDA programs. The President signed the Act into law on September 28, 2012.
It also continues the “conditions” included in the 2012 appropriations bills, which means that there are some limitations on authorized funding levels, otherwise known as CHIMPS (Changes in Mandatory Program Spending). These CHIMPS reduced the amount of funding available for EQIP, CSP, FPP, WHIP, and AMA in 2012, and those same limits will apply under the continuing resolution.
While there was a great deal of Farm Bill action in the past few months, Congress adjourned before passing a final bill. The 2008 Farm Bill expired at the end of September.
The Senate passed their version of the Farm Bill on the floor on June 21. It reduces overall spending by $23 billion over a 10-year period. The Conservation Title sees about a $6 billion in spending reductions over that same 10 years.
The House Ag Committee passed their version of the Bill out of committee on July 12. That bill reduces overall spending by about $35 billion over 10 years, and again, the Conservation Title sees about a $6 billion spending reduction over the period. The House bill did not go to the floor before Congress adjourned.
It is notable that the House and Senate versions of the conservation title are similar in their continuing commitment to a strong conservation effort. Both versions propose the same approach to consolidating and streamlining conservation programs, while retaining the flexibility and conservation tools that farmers and ranchers use.
No matter the current status of the 2012 Farm Bill, five NRCS programs—CSP, EQIP, FPP, WHIP, and AMA—continue today, having been extended to 2014 in the FY 2012 appropriations act. Authority to enroll acres in CRP, WRP, GRP, or CBWI ends, however.
Whether the 2012 Farm Bill will be reconsidered after the November election during a lame-duck session of Congress or be postponed until next year remains uncertain.
Ken Burns’ New Film Features SCS
“What kind of place was this where children couldn’t go outside? Where the air itself could kill you? Where the sky showered down this suffocating blackness that could erase the sun at midday?”
—A Dust Bowl Survivor
Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl chronicles the stories of twenty-six Dust Bowl survivors who remember this pivotal event with poignant clarity. This two-part, four-hour film is based on Timothy Egan's book The Worst Hard Time and uses personal stories to highlight the monumental dust storms and lethal drought that devastated the Southern Plains states for a decade during the Great Depression.
The Chief recently hosted an advance screening of part of the film at the White House Conference Center. The Soil Erosion Service; its successor, the Soil Conservation Service; and agency founder Hugh Hammond Bennett are featured for about 15 minutes of the film.
Because the Dust Bowl story is so significant to our agency and its mission, it’s important that our employees, customers, and partners tune in to see this powerful film. The documentary will air on PBS stations across the nation on November 18 and 19, 2012, from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Please check your local PBS television listings to confirm airtimes.
You can watch the PBS promo here: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl/watch-videos/#2271755349
Latest on NRCS Improvements
NRCS State Conservationists received an update on agency improvements at regional meetings held this August. In order to share as much information with employees as possible, the following new items have been added to the improvement SharePoint site:
PowerPoint presentation from the regional meeting, including a timeline (FY12-FY14);
Integration table, which shows overlap and coordination of improvements;
One-pager, which succinctly explains the improvements; and
New “Questions and Answers” document, from inquiries to the improvement mailbox.
If you have any questions or ideas, please ask your State Conservationist, or use one of these:
Featured Photo from the Field
Honey bee with a heavy load of pollen from a stand of “monarch” seaside goldenrod; Cape May, N.J. By Tim Dunne
Every issue we’re featuring a recent photo from the field. So send us yours for consideration! Please make sure to include a caption and photographer for each photo.
For more photos submitted this month, please visit our “Take Your Best Shot” photo page.
Around the Agency: Blogs
Do you know what your colleagues are up to? Check out these awesome recent blog stories, as we:
We typically post a couple of stories each week, so keep an eye on the “conservation” section of the USDA blog!