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One Landowner's Perspecitve on CSP

CSP in South Carolina—One Landowner's Perspective

Alfalfa Producer Rewarded for Conservation Excellence

By Amy O. Maxwell, USDA-NRCS
Public Affairs Specialist

             Tuckedaway in the middle of a gorgeous, gently sloping landscape is Linda Sexton’shome and alfalfa hay operation. Located in Kinards, South Carolina, and straddling the county lines of Laurens and Newberry Counties, the Sexton farm is a great example of the benefits of conservation. Theexemplary operation is also one of the nation’s first 2,220 farms to beenrolled in the Conservation Security Program (CSP). The program was unveiledthis past spring when USDA Secretary Ann Veneman announced the first watershedsselected for implementation of CSP. In South Carolina, the Saluda River Watershed was chosen. NRCS administers this voluntaryconservation program that provides payments for producers who have historicallypracticed good stewardship on their agricultural lands and offers incentives forthose who want to do more. “This particular farm is truly an example of theCSP motto, which is reward the best and motivate the rest,” explained NRCSDistrict Conservationist Lisa Good of Laurens County.

           Good began working with Sexton last year, and Newberry NRCS DistrictConservationist Craig O’Dell has been working with her for many years. Beforeshe became officially established as an alfalfa farmer, her and her husband hadexperimented with several areas of agriculture. “My husband and I farmed afterhe retired from the airline industry, and we experimented with a hog operation,as well as a small grain operation.” Finally, Sexton took it on her own accordto establish an alfalfa hay operation, and supplies a single buyer. “We havejust over 400 acres of alfalfa that we grow for hay.”

           Alfalfa is highly nutritious forage--higher in protein, energy and many mineralsthan any other roughage feed. It has a very long history, and is known as one ofthe earliest crops domesticated by man. Research indicates that remains ofalfalfa more than 6,000 years old have been found in Iran, while the oldest reference is from Turkey in 1300 BC! Growers of the legume praise it for its high yield, wideadaptation, disease resistance, and feeding quality. The United States grows about 23 million acres a year—third in value behind only corn andsoybeans.

           Once established, alfalfa requires careful management practices to ensure highyields and stand persistence. For example, timely cutting at the proper growthstage; control of insects, diseases and weeds; and replacement of nutrientsremoved in the forage. “Alfalfa has excellent forage quality if managedproperly, and Mrs. Sexton has done her homework on the subject,” said Good.

           “Alfalfa production used to be a bigger industry in South Carolina in the 1950’s and 60’s, and it was often used in crop rotations,”explained O’Dell. However, because it can be expensive to establish,especially in small quantities, and because it is tedious to manage, it takes aproducer who has the financial means and is willing to invest time into thepractice. Therefore, it is not as common to find a landowner in South Carolina today who is committed to producing alfalfa. “Growing alfalfa for hay is notsomething you can just establish and watch it grow. It takes continualmanagement, plenty of time and patience, and a creative approach.”

           Sexton was already practicing intensive nutrient and pest management, both whichare critical to establishing a hearty alfalfa crop. Her acreage qualified asTier 2 cropland, meaning that she had addressed soil and water quality to theField Office Technical Guide (FOTG) standards on her entire operation. Nationalstatistics show that 40 percent of this round of CSP applicants qualified forTier 2 contracts. Her contract was based on the conservation practice of forageharvest management, or specifically, cutting grass for hay. Furthermore, Sextonwas going above and beyond in her stewardship activities, including collectionof yield data, controlling noxious/invasive weeds on a spot basis, and testingher soil on a regular basis.

           “I received the direct mailing from the NRCS office regarding the kickoff ofCSP in South Carolina and contacted the office to find out more,” Sexton said. “Because I found amarket for the alfalfa, it has really been a rewarding experience, and hopefullywill continue to be so,” she said. With a 10-year CSP contract, Sexton isrealizing that her conservation efforts were definitely worthwhile. “This is awonderful program to encourage producers to do all that they can to protect ournatural resources, and now they will get rewarded for what many farm familieshave been doing for generations.”

           The selection of additional CSP eligible watersheds will soon beannounced. 

For more information, contact yourlocal NRCS office.