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World’s Muddiest Academic Contest Introduces Students to Soil and Range Health

Posted by Robert Hathorne, Oklahoma Public Affairs Specialist on June 13, 2016 at 07:53 AM
Land judging contestants use pocket knives to determine topsoil depth in a practice pit at the Lake Arcadia Conservation Education Area in Edmond, Oklahoma. The contest has been held every year for 65 years despite blistering heat, rain, ice and tornadoes.

Land judging contestants use pocket knives to determine topsoil depth in a practice pit at the Lake Arcadia Conservation Education Area in Edmond, Oklahoma. The contest has been held every year for 65 years despite blistering heat, rain, ice and tornadoes.

With mud-caked boots, furrowed brows and dusty clipboards, more than 500 high school students carefully sidestep each other through a maze of tiny plastic flags and trenches cut into the bright red soil of the Oklahoma prairie. The peculiar scene has been a May tradition in the outskirts of Oklahoma City for 65 years.

The National Land and Range Judging Contest is the culmination of local and state contests where FFA and 4-H teams use their knowledge of soil science and rangeland ecology to evaluate the land for agricultural and residential uses. At the national level, the best teams from more than 30 states compete for the championship trophy. Along with several state agencies and organizations, including the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and conservation districts, technical staff from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have helped run and officiate the contest from the beginning. Read more >>

Tags: Oklahoma

categories Discover Conservation


Fourth-generation Farmer Finds Soil Success in No-Till and Cover Crops

Posted by Thomas Kielbasa, Maine Public Affairs Specialist on June 09, 2016 at 03:19 PM
When Bob Fogler started to slowly incorporate no-till farming into his practices he began to see a difference in soil productivity.

When Bob Fogler started to slowly incorporate no-till farming into his practices he began to see a difference in soil productivity.

When Bob Fogler walked the fields of his dairy farm in central Maine recently, he wasn’t looking ahead; he was looking down and about four inches into the earth.

Shovel in hand, Fogler plodded purposefully through a cold, dry cornfield blasted by late-winter winds. He stopped often, turned over clods of chocolate-brown soil with the shovel blade, looked for worms, and moved on. Behind him a group of 15 farmers, soil scientists and agricultural specialists navigated through the rows of broken stalks and followed as the fourth-generation farmer spoke about the unseen life teeming under their feet.  Read more >>

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Tags: Maine, soil health

categories Farmer & Rancher Stories, Soil Health


Reining in a Rogue River: NRCS and Walker River Paiute Tribe Team Up to Tame the Walker River

Posted by Heather Emmons, Nevada Public Affairs Officer on June 08, 2016 at 11:25 AM
A look at the latest streambank stabilization project completed through a partnership between the Walker River Paiute Tribe and NRCS Nevada.

A look at the latest streambank stabilization project completed through a partnership between the Walker River Paiute Tribe and NRCS Nevada.

In the Great Basin, on the eastern slope of the Sierras, lies the small town of Schurz, Nevada, which is surrounded by the Walker River Paiute Tribe Indian Reservation. As the reservation’s name implies, the Walker River meanders through the area, making its way through Schurz, and eventually spills into its terminus Walker Lake at the southern tip of the reservation. At high flows, the river chooses its own course as it meanders through the soils. Picture an inner tube ride at your local water park: as you start making your way through the tunnels, you pick up speed and start bouncing higher and higher from one side to the other as you splash through the course.  

With the Walker River’s high velocity, it carves away at embankments made of sandy loam soil—a soil perfect for local area farmers to grow their alfalfa, but easily erodible when faced with the power of the river.  The river pushes off of sand bars created by soil deposits and then cuts into the area of private landowners and farmers, placing their livelihoods and even their families in jeopardy. Through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, the Nevada NRCS teamed up with the Walker River Paiute Tribe to help them control the sedimentation issue.      Read more >>

Tags: Nevada

categories Communities


Rhode Island Farm a ‘Riot of Pollinator Activity’

Posted by Gary Casabona, Rhode Island State Biologist on June 02, 2016 at 02:43 PM
An American copper butterfly gathers nectar from anise hyssop.

An American copper butterfly gathers nectar from anise hyssop.

Amid a sea of lance-leaf coreopsis, partridge pea and anise hyssop growing on Godena Farm, you hear a faint buzz. It’s the sound of bees hard at work—and proof of a healthy landscape.

The Conanicut Island Land Trust purchased the Jamestown, Rhode Island farm to conserve open space and create a permanent sanctuary for pollinators. Managers of the 25-acre farm have planted wildflowers and warm-season grasses, improving habitat for bees and other pollinators, as well as wildlife. And the result? It’s what Quentin Anthony, the land trust’s president, calls “a riot of pollinator activity.”   

Even though crops are no longer grown on the farm, its bee hives, maintained by the trust and the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association, yield substantial amounts of honey thanks to the farm’s abundance of bees and wildflowers.  Read more >>

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Tags: pollinators, Rhode Island

categories Plants & Animals, Farmer & Rancher Stories


Oregon Ranchers Nurture Milkweed, Lure Monarchs

Posted by Tracy Robillard, Oregon Public Affairs Specialist on June 01, 2016 at 08:31 AM
Laurie Halsey examines a cluster of milkweed plants on her ranch.

Laurie Halsey examines a cluster of milkweed plants on her ranch.

If you plant them, they will come.

That’s Warren and Laurie Halsey’s approach to improving monarch butterfly habitat on their 270-acre ranch in Benton County, Oregon.

“If there’s no milkweed, there’s no place for the monarchs to lay their eggs. They depend on it,” Warren said. “We started planting milkweed about 12 years ago when we got some seeds from the Audubon Society. We took it on as an experiment and planted them in different spots on the property. It was a struggle getting the plants going, but we figured out what worked and what didn’t. And then, when the monarchs appear, it’s a blessing. You just get really excited.”

After a decade of trial and error, and with help from multiple volunteers and partners, the Halseys now have 19 active milkweed clusters on their ranch. This year, they reported seeing more monarchs than ever before. Read more >>

Tags: Oregon, monarch butterfly, wetlands, pollinators

categories Plants & Animals, Conservation Programs, Environment, Farmer & Rancher Stories, Landscape Initiatives


A Century of Conservation

Posted by Paige Buck, Illinois Public Affairs Officer on May 31, 2016 at 10:02 AM
Harold Kraut holds an award presented to him in 1954 by Illinois Governor William Stratton, for his outstanding achievements in soil conservation.

Harold Kraut holds an award presented to him in 1954 by Illinois Governor William Stratton, for his outstanding achievements in soil conservation.

After Harold “Boge” Kraut returned home from World War II in 1945, he purchased his 144-acre farm for $125 down and a firm handshake as a promise to repay the balance. With that, he became a farmer.

Harold said he’d always had a knack for conservation. Maybe that came from growing up during The Dust Bowl, or perhaps from working on his parents’ orchard.

“As a little bitty boy, I played in the dirt with those animals up on the hill for years,” Harold recalls, talking about a little set of celluloid (plastic) farm animals he got for Christmas. “But I took care of those animals.” Read more >>

Tags: Earth Team Volunteers

categories Farmer & Rancher Stories