AGRICULTURE: Good stewards of natural resources

Cotton is no longer king in Mississippi but it does still play a role in agri-business in Chickasaw County. Agriculture in Chickasaw County spans everything from cattle and catfish to soybeans and sweet potatoes. (Courtesy Photo)

Cotton is no longer king in Mississippi but it does still play a role in agri-business in Chickasaw County. Agriculture in Chickasaw County spans everything from cattle and catfish to soybeans and sweet potatoes. (Courtesy Photo)

HOUSTON – Farmers do live a little closer to the Earth and understand the big picture. But agriculture is also a business and farmers often need a little help to make a profit.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service links sustainable agriculture practices with programs and policies that conserve and protect the nations soil, water and air and ensure a healthy food supply.

Seventy percent of the land in the United States is privately owned, making stewardship by private landowners vital to the health of the nation’s environment.

“Ensuring productive lands in harmony with a healthy environment is our vision,” said Debby Carnathan, NRCS Executive Director for the Houston field office. “The average person does not know what we do here or understand how vital our job is to the nation’s food supply.”

Carnathan said NRCS’ reach covers soil, water, air, plants and animals.

“We are probably best known for our CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) that retires cropland into trees or grass,” said Carnathan. “But we do so much more with watersheds, erosion control, soil health, chemical drift from spraying fertilizers and pesticides and also animal health and even wildlife concerns.”

CRP seeks to take high erosion land out of cultivation and establish native or alternative cover to protect the top soil

“CRP has been around since 1986 and Chickasaw County landowners have taken advantage of it,” said Carnathan. “We have some landowners who are rotating through the program for their third time.”

Chickasaw County ranks eighth in Mississippi in annual CRP payments with $23.05 million credited from 1995 to 2012.

NRCS can also help landowners design and maintain watersheds in the form of farm ponds and erosion problems along creeks.

“The push now is on soil health,” said Carnathan. “There are plants or ground cover that can be planted that put carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients back in the soil to make it more productive year after year.”

There is also Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers through contracts up to a maximum of ten years in length.

These contracts provide aid to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns and for opportunities to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland.

Carnathan said NRCS can also help landowners with organic crops, renewable energy, specialty crops and environmentally successful livestock practices.

NRCS has its roots in the Dustbowl of the 1930 where intensive farming practices depleted the soil.

“We know better now and we have the technology and resources to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Carnathan. “We are a federal agency and I think we will be around a long time.

“There is a lot of value in what we do,” said Carnathan. “We help farmers produce quality food at a profit and I am proud to say we run a tight ship.”

For more information about NRCS program and policy contact Carnathan at 456-1499 or drop by their offices at 415 Lee Horn Drive in Houston.

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