By Katrina Vaitkus
Through a 2018 NACD Technical Assistance Grant, Hill County-Blackland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in Texas has been able to remove the backlog that has plagued the district for quite some time.
Upon receiving their grant, the district was able to bring on Jai Erwin as a technical support specialist. Erwin has helped with numerous projects that have eased the district’s backlog and helped the producers in their area.
In 2015, the county experienced a devastating flood that caused a lot of runoff, damaged terraces, created ditches and more. The county received federal assistance to help farmers mitigate the issues created; however, they didn’t have adequate staff to help everyone. Erwin made this project his first priority, preparing almost 200 individual applications that allowed landowners to move forward with their repairs.
“These individuals were at risk of losing their assistance due to the aging of the project, through no fault of their own, and my efforts helped to prevent this from happening,” Erwin said.
Erwin also assisted with the Grasslands Conservation Initiative (GCI), a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) initiative that assists producers in protecting grazing land. Eligible and participating producers received $18 per base acre for maintaining their land in grass. Erwin worked diligently with producers to draw up their plans and verify their farming practices.
As many of the neighboring counties were also short-staffed, Erwin assisted them with their GCI applications. In total, Erwin says he completed over 80 applications across several months.
Erwin has also spent time working with landowners in his county to determine what crop rotations should be utilized. Through discussions with these landowners, he helped them create rotations that would allow their soils time to regenerate any lost nutrients and improve soil health over time.
Erwin moved to Texas from Johnson County, Arkansas, where he had worked for his local conservation district.
“Coming from a district that deals almost exclusively with poultry farmers, the diversity of projects in this region is very welcomed,” he said.