The Conservation Farm Family Award ceremony at Farm Science Review included a special feature this year with the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. State conservationist Terry Cosby took to the podium to thank the agency’s staff as well as Soil and Water District employees for 75 years of dedicated service. Cosby noted that the accomplishments of the agency relied on strong ties between local district staff and farmers. He also congratulated the conservation families for their work noting it represented man generations of stewardship from farmers all across Ohio.
State conservationist Terry Cosby saluted the diligence of the staff of Ohio's NRCS employees and the local soil and Water Districts.
Then Cosby introduced Bill Richards, the Circleville farmer who served as chief of the NRCS Dec. 16, 1990 – Jan. 22, 1993. At the time the agency was known as the Soil Conservation Service. Richards recalled the greatest challenge of his tenure as being compliance. He referred to the mandatory residue requirements of the time as “the first steps toward required conservation.”
Richards recognized the researchers at the Ohio Agricultural Resource and Development Center for their work making no-till a viable practice in the state and across the nation. In particular he recalled the efforts of Glover Triplett and Dave Van Doran in the famous Wooster no-till test plots started in 1960. He also recognized Extension’s Gordon Ryder for helping farmers learn to use the technology.
Bill Richards urged farmers to adopt the technology available to control runoff and wastes on their farms.
“Talk about success stories,” Richards said. “These guys changed the mindset and attitudes of farmers across the country.”
He then saluted the lineage of conservation farmers who have followed their convictions to leave the land better than it was when they found it. Richards added his own philosophy that “it is the moral duty of the farmer today to use the very best technology available to enhance the farm’s productivity and to protect the environment.”
Later he told me, “We can’t be expected to do the impossible, but we should be held to use the technology available to do the best job we can.”
It is a good point to emphasize this week as the Columbus Dispatch is running a five part series on how run off from farm chemicals is “poisoning” our water supply. With articles on livestock waste containment, atrazine in drinking water and problems with algae growth in waters like Grand Lake St. Marys, the series complains that regulators cannot take on "big" farm interests.
The fact is that Ohio farmers and their families drink the water and use the lakes for recreation too. When given incentives to install control structures like buffer strips and wetlands, farmers have jumped at the chance. Anyone familiar with agricultural publications has seen the stories about new ways to control nitrogen in drainage tiles and to hold manure in covered storage. The figures don’t lie about the incredible reductions in the amount of active ingredients our pesticides contain today compared to 20 years ago.
Just read a little Louis Bromfield to get a picture of how much farmers have changed their attitude toward conservation in the last 75 years. Things were truly desperate in 1949 when he wrote, “As soils are depleted our human health, vitality and intelligence go with it.” We are continuing to use technology today to not only build our soils, but to improve our environment in spite of the population explosion we have experienced. As new methods are found, they also need to be put to use.
The NRCS has contributed in now small way. Happy Birthday and continued success.