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Success Stories


Conservation Success Stories and Feature Articles

Advance Payment Helps Beginning Farmers Reach their Management Goals

Dittmar Family Farm owners, Zach and Jenny DittmarSmall and beginner farmers Zach and Jenny Dittmar farm with a regenerative outlook—meaning that they aim to take care of life in the soil through natural, sustainable methods.

When they purchased their 40-acre plot of conventionally tilled land in 2017, they knew it would require time, money and some good old-fashioned hard work to make it their dream farm.

Over time they began slowly but diligently turning the fallow ground into a healthy, diverse operation of various crops and livestock. They added sheep, goats, meat chickens and laying hens. They grew a wide range of vegetables including tomatoes, radishes, spinach, basil, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, and broccoli.  

The Dittmars sought to further expand their small vegetable operation by adding a high tunnel.  However, the high tunnel required a significant financial investment to their small but growing operation. One that did not fit into their initial budget. Zach learned that the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided both financial and technical assistance to help farmers implement conservation practices to improve the health and productivity of their land.

“I couldn’t afford a high tunnel, so I asked the local NRCS soil conservationist what could I do,” said Zach Dittmar. Soil conservationist John Bushey helped Dittmar apply for an advance payment for a high tunnel through NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Dittmars installed the high tunnel in 2019—allowing them to extend their growing season, reduce inputs, better manage pests and improve the health of their soil. “This would not have been possible without the advance payment,” said Jenny Dittmar.

Read full story here.

Butterfly rests on pollinator plant on Sussex County farm.

Helping You Help Pollinators

For those following the news about the environment and agriculture, you most likely have heard by now that we as a society are concerned about the decline of bee and pollinator populations. You know the stats: honey bees are responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops and one out of every three bites of food Americans eat. They provide the means necessary for the reproduction of nearly 70 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species.

If those headlines didn’t grab your attention, then maybe you have heard the quote often credited to Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

The point here is not to strike fear, but to offer solutions to landowners that want to take action to help bees and pollinators. The bottom line is that pollinating insects are facing a multitude of threats: habitat loss from development and land clearing, lack of forage, lack of forage diversity, parasites, diseases, and pesticide exposure. If you have always wanted to help pollinators, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has technical and financial resources available to assist you.

Read full article here.

Farmer Will Carlisle (L) and his wife Karla (R) review a conservation plan with Sussex district planner, Owen Lenkner.Family, Farming and Conservation. A Perfect Fit

Family man and farmer Will Carlisle is a seventh generation farmer. Ever since he was a child, he has been fascinated by farming. Today, he loves the challenge –adapting to weather, technology and markets. He sees farming as a big puzzle that only works when the right pieces fit together. Conservation is one of those “right” pieces.  

Carlisle operates Carlisle Farms, Inc. alongside his father, Keith Carlisle, and with office support from his mother, Carol, and wife, Karla in Sussex County, Delaware. The conservation practices that the Carlisles have installed to improve soil, water, and air resources are also key to improving productivity on their 2,000-acre grain and vegetable operation. Long-term productivity and sustainability is essential as they provide their customers with a wide variety of grain and vegetables including corn, soybeans, wheat, string beans, pickling cucumbers and sweet corn.

Read full article here.

Farmer Larry Bonilla's poultry facility in PR damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Bringing Relief to Farmers After Hurricane Maria
From Delaware to Puerto Rico

While natural disasters can shatter lives and livelihoods, they can also bring together a global community of individuals/entities ready to help impacted citizens rebuild and recover. Maria, one of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history, was just such an event. This epic storm created widespread devastation that touched those far beyond the islands of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and stirred up countless calls to action.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is one of many organizations with a presence on the ground in Puerto Rico. Although not considered a traditional first responder, NRCS can provide special funding to assist those who produce America’s food and fiber—our farmers. In fact, USDA NRCS is providing up to $14.2 million in assistance through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Emergency Relief Fund to help farmers get their agricultural operations up and running again.

“We’re here for the farmers as well as everyone who relies on their goods and services,” said Clarimer Hernández-Vargas of the USDA NRCS in Delaware. Hernández-Vargas was part of a 13-member NRCS team who volunteered for a special detail assignment in Puerto Rico earlier this year to provide technical and financial assistance support for operations impacted by the Category 5 storm.

Read full article here.

Small farmer Toby Hagerott proudly stands in front of his pollinator plantings on his operation.Small farmer Toby Hagerott is rooted in farming in every sense. He is a descendant of farmers; he is actively farming; and his “off-the-farm” job is on the farm—educating the next generation of farmers.

Hagerott manages seven acres of the 112-acre Historic Penn Farm in New Castle, Delaware. Before Penn, he already had decades of experience farming—starting at 12 when he took over his mother’s garden. He had also managed a small farm in Middletown where he grew a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription from 14 shareholders to 80. His current operation, Against the Grain, is indicative of his diverse vegetable operation. As a small farmer growing specialty crops each year he understands the importance of taking care of the land.

Read full article here.

The Submerged Soils

Soil scientists use special tools and equipment to map subaqueous soils.The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recognizes that underwater soils, or subaqueous soils of coastal areas, are vital. Within the next decade, nearly three-fourths of the U.S. population is expected to live within 100 km, or 62 miles, of the coast. This high population density, together with its associated activities will put significant stress on these coastal and near-shore ecosystems.



Coastal areas that are healthy and intact provide stability and valuable services. Many people rely on   coastal areas to live, work, swim, boat, fish, transport goods, and more.  


Read full article here.

Finding Value in Conservation Planning

Poultry grower Georgie Cartanza stands in front of the windbreaks that surround her poultry operation.Poultry grower Georgie Cartanza is fully immersed in all aspects of the poultry industry –yet she recognizes that nothing is more important than planning. A principle shared by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Cartanza is adamant that for poultry, you must plan. “I see conservation planning as a team working together to come up with the best solutions possible. All those pieces of the puzzle come together to make the operation much more productive, attractive and cost-effective.”

Read full article here.

Precisely the Right Choice

Delaware farmer uses advanced nutrient management technology from the cab of his tractor.

If you drive along Route 16 in Greenwood, Delaware, you will likely see a father and son duo on their tractors throughout much of spring, summer and early fall. Scott Webb and his dad Ronnie farm 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, and barley on their family-based operation, Lea View Farms. They start the farming season in March with a fertilizer application on their small grains and manure spreading to prepare for the corn planting. Over the next seven months comes the first planting, a split application of fertilizer, harvesting small grain, a double-crop planting of soybeans after small grain, a break from the tractor for irrigation, and then back to harvesting until October.

For the last 30 years, Scott and his dad have sought to manage their land as efficiently as possible through soil sampling to properly manage their nutrients and following recommendations based on yield goals. Split and timely application techniques have helped them increase productivity of fertilizer applications, but they knew they could do more and seized on the opportunity to implement advanced nutrient management practices.

Read full article here.

Bringing Back Milkweed to Bring Back the Monarch Butterflies

Small group of milkweed plants scattered throughout the People's Garden to be transplanted into one central location.The Monarch Butterfly is an orange-and-black species that is known for its annual, multi-generational migration from central Mexico to as far north as Canada. These butterflies populate the entire United States - other than Alaska.

Because Monarch Butterflies are always on the move, they need to have the right plants at the right time along their migration route. Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed, which provides feeding caterpillars with a source of food and produces a toxin that protects them from birds. Adult butterflies rely on the flowers from high-quality nectar plants to fuel their flight.

Read full article here.

Introducing the Updated and Improved Conservation Stewardship Program
by Thomas Wiltbank, Program Manager, Delaware NRCS


To the conservation stewards—those committed to taking care of the natural resources on their agricultural lands--the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a program that offers farmers and forestry producers incentives to take their land management to a higher level. The newly revamped Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) now provides producers with even more options to improve natural resource conditions.

Read full article here.

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.

Read full article here.

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.

Read full article here.


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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