By Katrina Vaitkus
In northern Florida where the primary natural resource concerns are water quantity and quality, technical assistance is key to helping producers address those concerns. The Suwannee County Soil and Water Conservation District, through NACD Technical Assistance Grants, has been crucial in boosting technical assistance capacity in the area. Not only has the district utilized grant funds to improve assistance in their county, their funds have helped boost capacity for Hamilton and Lafayette Counties, the two other areas serviced by the Live Oak Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field office.
With their grant, the district board decided to have Program Administrator Garrett McCray and Staff Assistant Joni Fortner assist NRCS District Conservationist, Chris Menhennett, with administering programs in the Live Oak region. This allowed them to better serve the area’s three counties, boosting program participation by 38 percent.
The team worked diligently to help producers implement conservation practices, namely cover crops and integrated nutrient and pest management, which are some of the best ways to protect and preserve the area’s water resources. “Water quality and quantity is closely tied to soil health,” Menhennett said. “We’re getting a lot of interest through these conservation programs, especially [the Environmental Quality Incentives Program] (EQIP), to do cover crops.”
In Lafayette County, the team helped a husband and wife duo with various conservation practices. Through assistance with nutrient and pest management, cover crops, conservation tillage and residue management, the couple are improving water quality and soil health on their operations. “They’re very happy,” Menhennett said. “They want to get to the point where they don’t want to have to do any type of tillage on their operation.”
Menhennett, McCray and Fortner have also helped address numerous water quantity issues by improving irrigation efficiency through removing inefficient systems and updating them to center pivot systems. In Hamilton County, the group provided technical and financial support to a beginning female farmer who wanted to replace her traveling gun irrigation system with a center pivot irrigation system. While they’re waiting for her first grain crop this year to have actual measures, Andy Jackson, chairman of the district board, estimates the conversion will save at least 10 million gallons a year on 140 acres.
The district and NRCS are extremely happy with how this NACD grant process has worked out. “The way that NACD structured this was very well thought out and refreshing, because it allowed the district to work directly with NACD on reporting deliverables and receiving funding,” Menhennett said.