The trip through the South Laughery Creek Watershed area recently turned out to be a testament to what farmers can accomplish with a little push – usually financial incentives to help offset the cost of long-range projects that might not be profitable immediately. Some require cash outlays that make it unreasonable to do if the farmer had to pay for the entire bill up front.
Duane Drockelman, coordinator of the South Laughery Creek watershed, says it covers parts of Ripley, Dearborn, Ohio and Switzerland Counties. The project was funded twice, each time for a three-year period, through the 319 grant program funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is administered in Indiana by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
South Laughery Creek project officially ends in January 2013. The first three years of the project, like most watershed projects, was spent inventorying the area and putting together plans to bring erosion under control and improve the quality of water in the creek and its tributaries. The second three-year period was primarily for cost-share projects. Drockleman worked with some 70 landowners who actually took advantage of the project and installed practices or took measures so that their soil would stay in place. Many of them installed practices for livestock or hay operations. Others used funds available through cost-share to no-till or begin using cover crops.
The committee in charge of the project applied for another three year extension, but it was denied. Drockelman wasn't surprised, nor was he disappointed. "We could have used a lot more cost-share dollars and accomplished a lot more here," he says. "The interest is there but these practices require an upfront investment and sometimes it's more than the landowner can afford without assistance. At the same time, I realize that the federal budget is tight. Fewer watershed projects are being approved. We've accomplished a lot here during the six years of this project."
Indeed, since much of the area in the watershed is rolling, soil savings would amount to thousands of tons per year if all the soil savings were totaled together. Drockelman is pleased with how many farmers took advantage of available funds and were willing to make improvements on their land for livestock operations, or else try new practices such as cover crops that will both improve soil health and water quality while taming soil erosion at the same time.