Everyone expects tighter budgets at the federal level going forward. Soil conservation is not immune. However, Dave White, chief of the natural Resources Conservation Service, believes conservation will still be a major player.
"Yes, it's going to be a challenge for Jane Hardisty and her staff, but this state is in a good position to do it," White says. "We're all going to have to do more work with fewer people."
Hardisty, state NRCS soil conservationist and a homegrown Hoosier, says Indiana at one point had 82 district soil and water conservationists. Today, there are 69. No county offices are expected to close.
More work by fewer people is always a challenge, but White hopes to provide tools to accomplish this task. This year two computer-related programs are being piloted. One is a financial program that would streamline efficiency. The other is called the Client Gateway.
"The idea is that a farmer or landowner sits at home, pull up his account and everything he needs to know about his farm, including soil maps and farm plans," White says. "We hope that he or she could apply for programs online. This means fewer trips to the office, and more time for conservation personnel to do other things."
This approach doesn't phase Hardisty. She says that since Indiana converted to the Technical Teams concept a few years ago, district conservationists are already freed up to spend more time in the field with farmers and less time behind the desk saddled with paperwork. The tech team concept involved equipping teams of individuals from all of Indiana's conservation partners with the latest equipment, and turning them loose to do the technical layout of practices. District conservationists visit the farmer, suggest the practice and then help him apply for it as needed.
"We're ready for what the Chief says is coming in the future," Hardisty says. "It would complement what we do already."
White hopes to encourage other states to take a closer look at Indiana's model, and to see that more work can be done with fewer people if resources are allocated correctly.
"Soil and water conservation districts are still going to be a very important part of this process," Hardisty says. "Some of them are struggling financially with local and state money issues, but others have already shown they can find very creative ways to still get projects accomplished."