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Soil Conservationist Reaps Benefits From Temporary Details

Soil Conservationist Reaps Benefits From Temporary Details

Soil Conservationist Joy Martin surveys a banana plantation for irrigation installation during her detail to the island of Kauai, Hawaii.
Soil Conservationist Joy Martin surveys a banana plantation for irrigation installation during her detail to the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

Banana plantation with irrigation installed using NRCS technical assistance.

Using GPS, Soil Conservation Technician Carl Hashimoto, locates pipelines and watering facilities.

Joy Martin, NRCS soil conservationist for the Newkirk Field Office, returned recently from a seven-week temporary detail assignment to the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Despite good hearted razzing from fellow employees about such a �terrible� assignment location, Martin carried out a lot of the same job duties that she completes daily in Oklahoma, only on different crops. She was selected among candidates from across the U.S. to serve this detail. Martin has served on three other detail assignments during her six-year tenure for the NRCS, those being in Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita for a month�s stint each time. On those temporary details, Martin completed Damage Survey Reports and worked on a survey crew.

Martin discovered that Kauai is a mainly rural island, 22 miles wide by 35 miles long, inhabited by approximately 60,000 residents and visited by many tourists. Plantation and farming employment has decreased over the years while the tourism industry becomes more important. Farmland is steadily being encroached upon by tourism industries, although many farms have begun incorporating an ag-tourism element on their farms to serve both purposes. Most land is state owned and leased to growers or owned by large corporations. Bette Midler owns land that has been preserved under the first NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program on the island.

Martin says NRCS programs that Oklahomans are familiar with are also used in Hawaii, such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Wildlife Incentive Program (WHIP), and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). Each island in Hawaii has its own NRCS office like counties do in mainland states. Although islands may share soil conservation technicians and conservation districts employ conservationists who carry out planning and provide assistance to growers.

Martin states, �The variety of unusual crops on Kauai was very intriguing. Most farms are small, less than 40 acres, with intensive production of truck-farm crops. Sugar cane, pineapple, bananas, mangoes, eggplant, papaya, and coffee were just a few of the crops I experienced.� Most macadamia nut groves were destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in the 1990�s. Corn seed companies carry out a lot of research on the island because three crops a year can be harvested in this tropical environment. Round-Up ready corn was developed here. Angus cattle production has also become important on the island, utilizing native grasses for grazing; Guinea grass and California grass, although all cattle are exported to the mainland for processing. �Rotational grazing plans and installation of pipelines and watering facilities for livestock are important NRCS work� claimed Martin. �Very few ponds are built there because they don�t hold water in the grainy volcanic soil.� When asked about the soil, Martin replied that a lot of the soils are red colored, as well as black, of volcanic origin. The soils seem to be easily eroded by heavy rains and wind erosion. Rainfall on the island ranges from 20� to 400� annually, with the mountain peaks receiving the most rainfall. NRCS also provides growers with technical assistance for irrigation and pest management. Wild hog, pheasant, and chicken populations can decimate crops due to lack of natural predators. Insect and virus control measures are also important with the intensively grown agricultural crops. Martin provided technical assistance in designing an irrigation system for a banana plantation. Fresh water sources are either wells or reservoirs. Quantity and quality of water are also concerns.

Record high costs of fuel and fertilizer like those experienced by farmers in Oklahoma have also plagued agricultural production in Hawaii. One sugar can production company will close its doors after 119 years of business, due to rising costs of fuel and fertilizer. The company plans to diversify its business by moving toward ethanol production. The last sugar cane crop on Kauai will be harvested in 2010. Earlier this summer, Maui Line and Pineapple Company announced plans to switch its focus from pineapple production to forestry and energy crops.

Martin has enjoyed her temporary assignment details, learning how diverse agriculture is throughout the U.S. and forming new friendships with colleagues. NRCS sends talented employees like Martin on details knowing that they can �hit the ground running�. She has come to appreciate the wealth of historical conservation knowledge that Oklahoma has used in developing technical specs used in her job.

Martin shares her time between the Newkirk and Perry NRCS field offices as a soil conservationist. She helps her husband, Shane, with his FFA Chapter in Braman, and keeps busy with her two teenager�s school and community activities.

Submitted by Susan Henning, district manager, Kay County Conservation District
November 2008

Last Modified: 11/13/2008

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