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News Release

NRCS to Honor Top Volunteer at Virtual Forage Conference

  portrait of man, cornfield

Keith Thomas, Earth Team Volunteer

Richmond, Va., Jan 7, 2021 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will recognize Virginia’s top Earth Team volunteer Keith Thomas at the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council (VFGC) Winter Forage Conference taking place virtually from Jan. 18-22.

Thomas is receiving the Outstanding Individual Award for developing VA Graz, a modelling software that helps graziers make land management decisions by projecting the impacts of system changes such as adopting best management practices or switching to prescribed grazing.

Thomas dedicated more than 130 hours over the past two years to create and fine tune VA Graz. The tool was originally intended for NRCS and soil and water conservation district use but has also been shared with partners like Virginia State Cooperative Extension, American Farmland Trust and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. It is so easy to use that individual producers are also incorporating it into their planning activities to help evaluate benefits of new approaches.

“Keith’s tool provides precise and reliable estimates,” said Virginia NRCS Forage and Grassland Agronomist J.B. Daniel. “When we present the illustrations to producers, they usually respond in a very positive way, particularly when they realize that they can take the resources they’re investing in hay and use it to do other things that benefit both their livestock and the environment.”

Daniel will provide a tribute presentation during program, which will include featured speakers Greg Bann and Greg Halich sharing their strategies for “Building Resilience in Grass-Based Farms” (this year’s conference theme). Bann is the owner and operator of Big Spring Farm in Greeneville, Tenn., and Halich a forage specialist and agriculture economist at the University of Kentucky.

The online sessions will also include on-farm demonstration videos and a live Q & A with featured speakers. Registration is now open at a cost of $20 per household. Visit the VFGC website to sign up and get a full schedule of events.

Earth Team volunteers use their personal skillsets to advance conservation throughout the Commonwealth. Their time can be donated to support a variety of activities ranging from planting trees for riparian buffers to helping with administrative tasks in NRCS offices. Thomas was one of 654 Virginia volunteers who contributed more than 5,600 hours of service in Fiscal Year 2020.

General information about the Earth Team program is available on the NRCS website. Inquiries can also be made at local NRCS offices or by contacting Barbara Bowen at Contact J.B. Daniel at to learn more about the VFGC event.