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Delaware Farmers for Conservation


Conservation Success Stories and Feature Articles

The Value of One Percent
by Paul Petrichenko, Assistant State Conservationist, Programs, Delaware

One percent. A trivial amount most would agree; but consider this—would you want to lose one percent of your wealth or brain matter or better yet, one percent of your heart’s function, which pumps blood and oxygen through your body?

Delaware enullncompasses a small percentage of the expansive 64,000-mile Chesapeake Bay Watershed—one percent to be exact. However, that one percent covers more than 1/3 of the state’s land area. And being a part of the Bay Watershed, no matter the size, comes with the weight of knowing that everything done on the land impacts the water flowing into the Bay. Much like the farmers of neighboring larger Bay states, the conservation work that Delaware farmers implement on their ag lands to protect their natural resources directly impact the Chesapeake Bay.

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Wetlands. Here to Protect and Serve our Natural Resources.

by Thomas Wiltbank, NRCS Program Specialist, Delaware

Wheatley's wetland restoration site in Sussex County, Delaware.Wet, farmed land. Wet, flood-prone land. Wet, unproductive land. Wet, marginal woodlands. If you have experienced this scenario or are dealing with it currently on your land, there’s likely some history behind it. You see, in the past a large percentage of land tracts containing hydric soils in Delaware were drained from wetlands to make available for other uses.  

These wetlands were typically drained using manmade ditches so that they would be conducive to farming or harvesting trees. However, in 1985, the federal government included provisions in the 1985 Farm Bill to discourage the conversion of wetlands to non-wetland areas by denying farm program benefits to those who converted wetlands after 1985.

The value of wetlands has become more widely recognized and there has been an emphasized need to restore them. The cumulative benefits of wetlands reach well beyond their boundaries to improve watershed health, the vitality of agricultural lands, and the aesthetics and economies of local communities. Restored wetlands provide habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, protect and improve water quality, and increase groundwater recharge.

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A Bird's Eye View

Muffled honking above pulls wildlife painter Richard Clifton’s eyes to the sky. Flying overhead are a flock of about 30 snowWildlife enthusiast and painter Richard Clifton reviews conservation plan with NRCS soil conservationist Brooke Brittingham on his plant and flood project. geese preparing to land nearby in Clifton’s adjacent crop field in Milton, Delaware. A common scene this time of year in his farm fields—which can be attributed to his unique wetland ‘plant and flood’ restoration project to enhance wildlife habitat.

Clifton’s farming background combined with his love of duck hunting and passion for painting wildlife gives him a unique perspective on wildlife enhancement. Growing up on a farm, as did his father and many generations before him, he recognizes the need to keep his fields in production agriculture. However, as an avid duck hunter, he desires additional habitat, food and breeding grounds for wildlife--all of which helps inspire his award-winning wildlife paintings.

“Before the project, I had crop fields with several natural low spots and when the big rains came, they held some of that water,” said Clifton. Not ready to permanently convert his cropland, which he rents out, to wetlands, he contacted his local NRCS office about options. “I just didn’t want to keep taking land away from my farmer. The more that I take out, the less of a benefit it is for him.”

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Take it from Them, Soil Health Matters

A dynamic panel of farmers and technical experts made their case on the value of protecting and improving the health of the soil during a late evening session at Ag Week 2016. 

Ohio farmer Dave Brandt honed in on the personal experiences and transitions that he’s had over the years. In the early 1970s, he began no-tilling his corn, wheat and soybeans. Then in 1978, he added hairy vetch and winter peas as cover crops to his no-till system to get more nitrogen.

He touted just some of his benefits. His soil organic matter (SOM) has increased from .5 percent in 1971 to 8 percent SOM in 2015. In the past two years, he hasn’t applied pesticides on his bean fields and he no longer worries about problem insect species. He has significantly reduced his fertilizer cost and has increased yields. Brandt called on all farmers to recognize their role as “livestock” farmers. Microorganisms are the livestock in the soil and we need to feed them too.

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Don't Be Led Anywhere, Plan Ahead

If you’re like most people, you don’t just wake up one morning and say “I’m going to travel the world today.” It likely wouldn’t work anyway because world travel involves planning – there’s documentation, airline reservations, lodging availability, a budget, and more.

The same is true for achieving the desired objectives on your farm--planning is the key. Whether you own hundreds of acres or just a few, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can help you develop a conservation plan to better manage the assets on your farm. A conservation plan can help you get to where you want to go.

Whether you grow cash crops, produce vegetables, raise poultry or livestock, or manage forestland, a conservation plan can work for you. During the conservation planning process, a certified conservation planner will work with you to understand your objectives and the resource needs of the land. Based on sound scientific practices, the planner will work with you to develop a plan specific to your operation that provides focus to activities that will help meet your land use and natural resource goals.

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Small Farmer Credits High Tunnel with Weed Control and More (November 2014)
Cover Crops and Improved Water Quality

The state of Delaware and Delaware NRCS are working cooperatively to help producers reduce nutrient loadings within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in an effort to meet the established Total Maximum Daily Loads requirements. The very popular cover crop program offered by the state of Delaware has seen a significant reduction in the amount of funds available to its producers. Cover crops play a major role in absorbing excessive nitrogen and phosphorous. This led Delaware NRCS to restructure the way it implemented cover crops under the EQIP program in an effort to complement the state program and align with the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Model to reduce nutrient loadings.

In fiscal year 2011, Delaware NRCS offered one year cover crop contracts that can either be planted early or at the standard time. Previously, Delaware only offered three year contracts, which made it difficult for producers to manage because most did not know where they were going to plant cover crops three years in advance.

Reducing Nutrients through Remediation

Delaware NRCS led the effort to provide landowners with technical and financial assistance to properly remediate abandoned poultry houses. Remediation ensures that the nutrient-rich soil floor of an unused poultry house is not subject to leaching from exposure to rainwater. If 500 abandoned poultry houses were to be remediated in Delaware alone, approximately 2.5 to 3.5 million pounds of nitrates could be prevented from reaching the Chesapeake Bay or eventually to the groundwater sources used for drinking water.

Landowner story coming soon

Poultry Farmer Saves Time, Money and Natural Resources with NRCS

It has been said not to judge a book by its cover. For Frank Robinson, it’s the name of his poultry operation that could easily be misjudged.  Frank Robinson is the proud co-owner of ‘Dead Broke Farms’ along with his two adult sons, Wes and Greg.  However, according to Mr. Robinson, it’s the financial incentives from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that helps ensure his poultry operation’s name stays just a little family joke. 

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