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Under Secretary Northey Tours Conservation and Partnership Successes in Texas


Bill Northey, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC), recently visited the San Antonio area to meet with local producers and partners who work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to discuss successes, opportunities to improve customer service, and to see first-hand the challenges that farmers and ranchers face every day.

A visit with the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) kicked off the Under Secretary's Texas conservation tour. This stop provided an opportunity to discussing programs that SARA and NRCS have partnered on to improve water quality from the headwaters of the San Antonio River down to the Gulf of Mexico. Through this partnership, SARA is able to partner with multiple local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) to put conservation directly on the ground through conservation practices that will benefit stream restoration efforts in the waterways that flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

"This partnership has been very successful through the stream restoration program and the NRCS Gulf of Mexico Initiative where private land owners are able to focus on conservation practices that can be utilized on the land and have a direct impact on the watershed that begins upstream and impacts downstream," said Tomas Dominguez, NRCS assistant state conservationist for field operations.

The next tour stop was at a Floodwater Retention Structure designed by NRCS, where Under Secretary Northey was able to meet with seven Pathway interns. The NRCS in Texas currently employs student interns through the Pathways Internship Program allowing college students pursuing a degree in the agriculture industry to gain experience through working a minimum of two summers with NRCS before graduating. The students were visiting the location as part of their internship to learn about watershed management and the way these earthen dams can protect cities and human life from flooding by helping retain floodwaters during rain events and releasing the water slowly at a safer velocity.

"Today these young potential employees were able to see the many landscapes and challenges that NRCS faces in Texas," explained Samantha Salinas, resources team leader of the San Antonio NRCS field office. "These dams used to be on rural lands, but San Antonio has been growing so rapidly that many have been reclassified to high hazard as a result of homes and infrastructure that have been constructed downstream."

"This site visit allowed Under Secretary Northey to see our training program, gave him a chance to discuss the status of the USDA, and allowed everyone to ask questions about careers and the future of the USDA and FPAC," Salinas added.

Just west of San Antonio, near the town of Devine, fourth generation farmer, Scott Yanta of Yanta Hay Farms, met with Under Secretary Northey to discuss his successes with financial and technical assistance from NRCS. After converting his traditionally row crop farm to permanent grass to fight erosion and reduce risk of frequent drought, Yanta now successfully grows horse quality coastal bermudagrass hay.

Yanta said, "If it wasn't for the NRCS and its programs, I would be ten years behind where we are now. My son and daughter both plan to come back to the farm once they complete college, and that is the best feeling a farming dad can have by knowing my family farm will be continued when it's time to pass it on to them."

To conclude the Texas visit, Under Secretary Northey met with local NRCS and Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff and County Committee members, the Medina Valley Soil and Water Conservation District directors and technicians to discuss in an open forum the realignment of the FPAC and hear from employees their concerns.

Under Secretary Northey shared the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue's vision to make customer service a priority within the FPAC mission area which includes NRCS, FSA, and the Risk Management Agency (RMA). Northey continued to discuss the state of filling vacancies, new technology, and the implementation of www.farmers.gov. This website will become the all-in-one site for farmers and ranchers to visit to get USDA information and assistance.

Under Secretary Bill Northey Tours Conservation and Partnership Successes in Texas, Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist (2018, July)