Nominations Sought for Outstanding Conservation District, Director and Cooperator
Sept. 8, 2014 - Each year, with the help of our partners and sponsors, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts recognizes the "Best of the Best" in the conservation community. Nominations are currently being accepted for the following awards:
Outstanding Conservation District Director
Five area recipients will be selected for each award based on their efforts to conserve and protect natural resources and their dedication to furthering the message of conservation in their communities. Area recipients will be recognized at their area meeting. From these finalists, one statewide recipient for each award will be selected. The statewide recipients will be recognized at an awards ceremony and receive a cash award during the March 23, 2015, Conservation Day at the Capitol. View last year's recipients here.
For complete contest rules including eligibility, nomination procedures and requirements, click here.
Two weeks prior to your area meeting. View area meeting dates here.
How to Submit a Nomination
Nominations may be submitted online at the links below.
“Mike Thralls’ leadership and tireless commitment to protecting natural resources has placed Oklahoma’s conservation partnership in a place of national prominence,” said Gary O’Neill, State Conservationist with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which works closely with the Conservation Commission.
An embodiment of the locally-led, voluntary spirit of conservation in Oklahoma, Thralls uses the same practices encouraged by the Commission on his own farm and is an enthusiastic advocate of soil health. His vision led to the creation of the state’s first Conservation Cost-Share Program in 1998, which assists Oklahomans in installing conservation practices on their land to improve water quality and reduce soil erosion. In 2007, Thralls oversaw establishment of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which has improved or restored Oklahoma streams.
“Partnership is critical to accomplishing the great task of natural resource conservation,” said Kim Farber, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts President. “No one understands this better than Mike, and it’s why Oklahoma leads the nation in so many areas of conservation.”
Working closely with partners, Thralls has brought millions of federal dollars into the state to revive Oklahoma’s aging flood control dam system. In 2001 he received the National Watershed Coalition’s Meritorious Service Award, and this year was elected president of the National Association of State Conservation Agencies. He also received the President’s Award from Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts in 2014. He is a 1988 Leadership Oklahoma graduate and proud graduate of OSU.
At their Sept. 4 meeting, Commissioners named Lisa Knauf Owen, the agency's operations chief, as interim executive director. Owen has worked for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission since 1994, serving as education coordinator, wetlands coordinator, assistant director and director of district services. Applications for the position of executive director are being accepted through Sept. 25.
Nearly $30 Million Made Available for Flood Control in Oklahoma
PERRY, Okla., July 18, 2014 – Communities across Oklahoma will benefit from a $26 million investment to upgrade dams that provide critical infrastructure and protect public health and safety.
National, state and local officials gathered at Perry Lake to announce mostly 2014 Farm Bill funding for dam upgrades in a state that first partnered with USDA to build a watershed structure in the 1940s.
“This investment will protect people and ensure that these critical structures continue to provide benefits for future generations,” said Jason Weller, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief. “Homes, businesses and agriculture are depending on responsible management of the dams and overall watersheds, and NRCS, Oklahoma Conservation Commission and conservation districts are continuing to provide that support to these communities.”
More than 150 dams in 26 states will receive upgrade assistance for planning, design or construction—36 of which are in Oklahoma. The projects were identified based on potential risks to life and property if a dam failure were to occur. The number of these high-hazard dams in Oklahoma is on the rise due to residential development downstream of the structures. Only 30 of Oklahoma’s 2,107 watershed program dams were originally constructed as high-hazard. Today, 249 are classified as such.
“Upgrading and extending the life of these structures is vital to Oklahoma’s economy. When the benefits of flood control dams are compared to the costs of maintaining them, it’s clear this is a quality investment that benefits all Oklahomans,” said Mike Thralls, OCC executive director.
Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed Dam No. 62 in Noble County where the funding announcement was made is one such structure. In addition to the benefits of municipal water and recreation to the City of Perry, the dam provides flood protection to 541 people who live and work downstream. Additionally, the dam protects seven county roads, one state highway, two U.S. highways, and Interstate 35. Together, these roads support 16,200 vehicles daily.
"Perry Lake (Upper Black Bear Watershed Dam No. 62) is a great example of the many benefits the watershed lakes are providing to rural and urban areas in the state," said Kim Farber, Oklahoma Association of Conservation District (OACD) President. "The Watershed Rehabilitation Program is about local people working together to maintain and improve a valuable natural resource. OACD commends Noble County Conservation District, the City of Perry, the Black Bear Conservancy District, Natural Resources Conservation Services and landowners in making the rehabilitation of this dam a reality. On behalf of the conservation districts in Oklahoma, I want to thank Congressman Frank Lucas for his leadership in authoring legislation that funds the infrastructure and maintenance of Oklahoma's 2,107 dams to ensure their safety and protect both life and property."
Oklahoma’s conservation partners operate and maintain 2,107 watershed flood control dams across the state, representing a $2 billion public infrastructure that provides $82 million in annual benefits in the form of flood control, municipal water supply, recreation, wildlife habitat, and wildfire suppression.
For more information, visit the NRCS Watershed Rehabilitation webpage or contact your local conservation district.
Deadline to apply for USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program is July 14
Agriculture producer groups, local governments and other community organizations interested in partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to leverage federal resources to support area conservation projects may submit a partnership proposal to participate in the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) by July 14.
Authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP encourages partners to join in efforts with producers to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources. The new program will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, nonprofit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.
With participating partners investing along with $1.2 billion in funding from the USDA, the department hopes to leverage an additional $1.2 billion for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation over the life of the five-year program.
“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation and other industries.”
The RCPP has three funding pools:
The critical conservation areas announced by Secretary Vilsack are the Great Lakes Region, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands and the Colorado River Basin. The Prairie Grasslands Region includes most of Oklahoma except the far eastern part of the state.
Eligible partners interested in applying can find more information here. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due September 26. Producers may apply for RCPP assistance by contacting their local NRCS office.
July 8 Field Day to Demonstrate Value of Cover Crops in Improving Soil Health
When: Tuesday, July 8, 2014, 10 a.m.
Where: Meet at Rhea Baptist Church
County Road 211 / Highway 47 in Dewey County
RSVP: By July 1, 2014 to 580/328-5366 or email@example.com.
What: Dewey County Conservation District together with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will host a Cover Crop Field Day to learn about the benefits to soil health from integrating cover crops into farming practices.
Cover crops are grasses, legumes or small grains grown between regular grain crop production periods for the purpose of protecting and improving the soil. In addition to preventing soil erosion due to wind and water, cover crops can provide a variety of other benefits when implemented into farming and ranching operations including adding organic matter and nutrients into the soil, providing weed control, improving soil structure and increasing water capacity.
Healthy soil is essential to meet the increasing food production needs of the world's growing population. By implementing conservation practices such as cover crops, agriculture producers are helping to ensure our soils are sustainable for future generations. Find more information on cover crops and soil health at www.nrcs.usda.gov.
10 a.m. - Depart Rhea Baptist Church
Tour of five cropland fields with different cover crop plantings.
Lunch at the farm of Jimmy Emmons, Dewey County Conservation District Board Member
Benefits and Challenges of Cover Crops
Jimmy Emmons, Producer
Gary O'Neill, NRCS State Conservationist, Oklahoma
Grid Sampling Variable Rates
Jimmy Evans, Western Equipment, LLC
Rainfall Simulator Demonstration
Steve Alspach, NRCS State Soil Scientist, Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) is pleased to partner on this event through our Soil Health Project. Sponsored by the Kirkpatrick Foundation, the OACD Soil Health Project is a statewide initiative to engage agriculture producers and citizens in improving the health and function of our soil.
Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), Access Midstream Partners, to collaborate on protection of Lesser Prairie Chicken through wildlife incentives
May 27, 2014 - As part of their ongoing efforts to protect soil, water, air and wildlife habitats, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) today announced their partnership with Access Midstream to help protect the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) through landowner incentives tied to habitat improvement.
“We are excited to have Access Midstream as our partner in helping landowners address the challenges created by the loss of Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat,” said Kim Farber, President of OACD. “Even though this species has been listed as threatened instead of endangered, we still need to do what we can to take it completely off the list. By providing incentives to help farmers and ranchers improve the habitat of this species hopefully we can help in this effort.”
Under the proposed collaboration, Access Midstream will donate funds to OACD who will work with landowners to preserve Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat in western Oklahoma. The goal of the partnership is to mitigate habitat loss and aid in the recovery of the species.
“Access Midstream is pleased to partner with OACD to improve the Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat in Oklahoma,” said Jimmie Hammontree, manager of regulatory affairs at Access. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with groups that share our vision of environmental responsibility and preservation.”
According to Clay Pope, Executive Director of OACD, this partnership will help not only with the protection of the species, but will also help improve the bottom line of participating agriculture producers.
“It costs money to undertake much of the habitat work necessary to improve the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, so any help we can give farmers and ranchers willing to do this work is money well spent,” Pope said. “If we can improve the habitat and possibly help delist this species someday, we should continue doing these types of projects. We also need to recognize the work that agriculture producers are doing and have done to protect this species through their management of the land. We are excited to have Access Midstream as a partner in this effort and we look forward to helping get this work done on the ground.”
Nine More Oklahoma Streams Show Significant Water Quality Improvement
May 19, 2014 – Voluntary conservation practices place Oklahoma among the water quality elite for another year. Farmers, ranchers and other landowners have helped nine more streams to be removed from Oklahoma’s 303(d) list of impaired streams. These streams are candidates to join 37 other EPA-recognized water quality success stories, for which Oklahoma ranks second in the nation.
The nine streams located in Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Garfield, Grant, Kay, Logan, McIntosh, Osage, and Pontotoc counties have been removed from the impaired streams list for marked reductions in turbidity, the amount of sediment suspended in water.
“Water quality monitoring data for these EPA success story candidates shows improvements which attributed to voluntary conservation practices. We have the strong partnership between agriculture producers, local conservation districts, Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to thank for that,” said Shanon Phillips, OCC Water Quality Division director.
Because drought naturally reduces turbidity, these streams were unlisted using pre-drought data from 2004-2009. Data from subsequent years continues to support improvements as a result of conservation practices such as fencing-off stream banks from livestock and not tilling fields in order to reduce chemical and soil runoff into streams.
Maintaining these practices is particularly important in times of drought because less frequent rainfall can negatively impact water quality. Existing pollutants in the water become more concentrated as water levels decrease. This can harm organisms living in the water and require additional chemicals to treat drinking water. Along banks, dry, sparser vegetation filters water runoff less effectively, while less frequent rain leads to higher concentrations of pollutants such as motor oil and fertilizers to accumulate on the ground. When rain finally does wash pollutants into streams, the higher concentrations can overwhelm ecosystems.
“In much the same way voluntary conservation practices being used by farmers and ranchers have so far prevented Oklahoma from slipping back into another Dust Bowl during this drought, it’s our hope that these best management practices will prevent water quality problems when the rains finally come,” said Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
OCC monitors approximately 450 streams statewide on a five year rotation. Monitoring data is used to determine water quality and identify how conservation practices are affecting streams, as well as how and where conservation efforts should be focused in the future.
Oklahoma Conservation Districts, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum to partner on natural resource education efforts
May 15, 2014 - As part of their ongoing work to protect the soil, water, air and wildlife habitats of Oklahoma and to educate citizens on the important role natural resources have played and continue to play in the development of the western United States, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum are announcing a new partnership on natural resource education.
“We are so proud to be a partner with the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in this effort,” said Kim Farber, President of OACD. “It doesn’t matter if you are talking about farming, ranching, mining, oil and gas, the timber industry, tourism or the fishing industry, the western United States was shaped and continues to be shaped by the regions natural resources. Like the rest of the west, Oklahoma faces several natural resource challenges as we move into the future. It’s so important that we educate the general public on the importance of the proper management and conservation of our natural resources. We are excited to have the museum as our partner in this task.”
“The museum is pleased to be partnering with the conservation districts of Oklahoma in this new collaborative effort,” said Gretchen Jeane, Director of Education at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. “The past, present and future of western resources is intertwined with the heritage of ranching in the American west and the iconic cowboy. Land and pasture management, water usage, conservation measures and livestock management are all essential discussions as we work together to build upon our past to ensure a western lifestyle for the next generation.”
The newly announced collaboration is designed to build on the successful education forum ‘Surviving the Elements; Land and Water Issues of the West,’ that was held at the museum in March. The partnership also draws on the ongoing education efforts of OACD and its member districts including the work done by the association in conjunction with the Ken Burns documentary, ‘The Dust Bowl.’
According to Farber, while full details of upcoming programs are yet to be finalized, the partnership holds great promise in expanding the knowledge base of Oklahomans on the importance of our state’s natural resources.
“We are just getting started on this partnership but we are excited about the possibilities,” Farber said. “The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is a world class facility that is second to none in telling the history of the western United States and our conservation efforts in Oklahoma are also second to none. By joining forces we can make a real difference in helping all Oklahomans understand the important role natural resources have played in our past and the critical role they will have in shaping our future. We are looking forward to working with the museum in this exciting work.”
Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts awarded Kirkpatrick Foundation grant for soil health initiative
May 8, 2014 - As part of their continuing commitment to Oklahoma and the health of its environment, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) today announced an initiative to help educate all Oklahomans on the benefits of soil health. The initiative is supported in part by a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
“Improved soil health is something everyone should be interested in, not just those of us in production agriculture,” Kim Farber, President of OACD said. “Whether you are talking about increasing yields to feed a growing planet, protecting the quality of our water, addressing climate change, improving wildlife habitats, insuring that we have adequate water for human consumption and production agriculture into the future or helping to improve the bottom line of farmers and ranchers, soil health can help address all of these issues. We are extremely honored to have received funding from the Kirkpatrick Foundation in our effort to spread the word about the benefits of soil health and we are excited to be able to get this effort off the ground.”
“The Foundation is pleased to approve a grant to OACD to help their work in soil health and conservation, which will be of significance to the entire state,” said Louisa McCune-Elmore, Kirkpatrick Foundation Executive Director. The Foundation has supported Oklahoma non-profits since its inception in 1955, giving grants in the areas of arts, culture, education, animal well-being, environmental conservation and historical preservation.
According to Farber, the grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation will help OACD increase the overall health of ecosystems of the state and help improve agriculture productivity in Oklahoma by engaging a greater number of farmers and ranchers in best management practices that increase soil organic matter, sequester carbon, reduce non-point source pollution and reduce soil erosion. The grant will also help better inform non-agriculture producers of the role soil health can play in protecting the environment and build a bridge between the environmental community and production agriculture that can lead not only to a healthier environment but also to a more profitable and productive agriculture sector.
“Oklahoma has for several years now been a leader in reducing non-point source pollution in our surface water and in controlling soil erosion,” Farber said. “We also have over 50,000 acres signed up in a program that pays farmers and ranchers for sequestering carbon in the soil through different farming practices. The exciting thing about all this is that the same farming practices that we are encouraging producers to put on the land to address environmental concerns are the same practices we want them to undertake to increase organic matter in their soil and improve soil health.
"According to the latest research, for every 1 percent of increased organic matter in the soil, you triple the soils water holding capacity. This means you can hold on to more moisture when it does rain and help your farm better weather droughts like the one we are experiencing now. That same 1 percent increase in organic matter also can potentially free up an additional $700 worth of nutrients per acre for growing crops. That’s free fertilizer that can help increase productivity and help producer’s bottom lines. These same practices also reduce the amount of diesel you use to grow crops and can help improve wildlife habitat. So often times the environmental community and agriculture seem to be a loggerheads. Soil health, however, is the one place where we can come together and make a difference, both for the environment and for producer’s bottom lines. We want to thank the Kirkpatrick Foundation for providing this grant to help us tell this story.”
Breshears Trucking Farm hosted 63rd National Land and Range Judging Contest; First Place Results Noted
OKLAHOMA CITY — Nearly 1,000 FFA members, 4-H members and sponsors from 34 states attended 63rd annual National Land and Range Judging Contest, held April 29 – May 1, 2014, according to contest co-chair Kim Farber, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, the contest's principal sponsor. Breshears Trucking Farm near the town of Mustang, Okla. in Canadian County hosted the contest. Total registration for the event exceeded 900 with coaches, sponsors, officials and group leaders in addition to the contestants.
National championship trophies were awarded to team and individual winners in each category of competition including land judging, range judging, and homesite evaluation. Each category included FFA and 4-H awards.
In FFA Land Judging, the North Miami, Ind. chapter won in the team category. Connor O’Neill of the Lind-Ritzville, Wash. chapter won first place in the individual category. For 4-H, the Barbour County, W. Va. club was the winning team and Kelton Miller, Barbour County, W. Va. club, was the 4-H individual winner. Jim Wildermuth, North Miami, Ind. 4-H club coach, won the Adult competition.
In FFA Range Judging Contest, the Hondo, Tex. chapter won the team competition, and April Molitor, Hondo, Tex. chapter won the individual award. The Oliver County, N. Dak. club won the 4-H team category, and Emily Klein, Oliver County, N. Dak. club, placed first in the 4-H individual category. Dave Ollila, S. Dak., won the Adult competition.
In FFA Homesite Evaluation Contest, the North Miami, Ind. chapter won the team competition, and Nick Thompson, Southern Wells, Ind. chapter, won the individual award. The Barbour County, W. Va. club won the 4-H team category, and Harley McVay, North Miami, Ind. club, placed first in the 4-H individual category. Jim Wildermuth, North Miami, Ind. 4-H club coach, won the Adult competition.
Farber noted the idea of a land judging contest was invented by three Oklahoma conservationists in 1943. They decided which soil qualities could be judged and developed score cards to test skills. The idea caught on and Oklahoma has been hosting the national contest since 1952, she said. Oklahoma City serves as headquarters for registration and other activities, with the actual contest held somewhere near the metro area.
The 4-H and FFA participating teams qualified for the national event by placing among the top five teams at contests held in their home states. Farber said the teams match skills in judging the adaptability of land for various purposes including farming, range management, and homesite construction.
The first two days of the three-day event offer contestants opportunities to visit nearby practice sites to get acquainted with Oklahoma soils and plants with information available from soil experts from USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service and OSU. A dance in the evening of the second day gives the participants a chance to socialize with other teens from across the nation.
The actual contest site remains a secret until contest day, so no one has an unfair advantage. Contestants and coaches gather on contest morning to find out the official contest location. They then travel to the site, with a police escort, in a caravan of over 100 cars spanning several miles.
"The contestants take turns examining the soil in pits and trenches dug especially for the contest," Farber said. She noted that the skills the teens test at the contest involve principles that can be valuable in career fields like environmental and agricultural management, natural resource conservation, home building and construction.
The event ended Thursday night with an awards banquet in the Great Hall of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum when the day's freshly-tabulated results were announced. Kim Farber emceed the awards program.
Farber presented the 2014 National Land and Range Judging Contest Honoree Award to Nick Owen. For more than 17 years Owen has played an important part in the site selection and layout of the contest. From arranging for the digging of pits, locating a site to feed 1,000 participants, or parking vehicles and returning the site to the way it was found, Nick can be counted on to get the job done.
"I would like to thank all the conservation districts, businesses and associations who sponsored this educational contest," Farber said. "It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and money to put on an annual event like this."
"Special thanks go to the Breshears Trucking Farm for hosting the contest," Farber said, "Thanks also to the Noble Foundation for sponsoring the printed program and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for hosting the awards banquet, along with many other sponsors."
Farber said the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Auxiliary sponsored and hosted the Social Hour and Dance. Members of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Employees assist with the very vital contest tabulating, which takes place in the few hours between the end of the contest and the beginning of the awards banquet.
Contest cosponsors also include Oklahoma Farm Credit, Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sirloin Club of Oklahoma, El Dorado Agricultural Products, Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, American Farmers & Ranchers, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, National Conservation Foundation, Biltmore Hotel Oklahoma, and numerous other businesses and organizations.
Oklahoma Conservation Districts encourage agriculture producers to think before they plow as drought conditions worsen
April 28, 2014, Oklahoma City—As the ongoing drought increases its hold across Oklahoma and the rest of the southern plains, agriculture producers should think long and hard before rushing into their fields to plow up acres where wheat is being abandoned or where farmers are considering growing summer crops according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
“We all know wind erosion is a constant concern in Oklahoma,” Farber said. “With the coming summer months being the hottest and typically driest of the year and with the national weather service already issuing blowing dust warnings for areas of the state as far east as Kingfisher and Garfield Counties, we have to be careful that we not open ourselves up to the specter of soil loss and dust storms due to the volatile mixture of high velocity winds and dry soils.”
According to Farber, weather conditions this year present circumstances that raise several concerns when it comes to wind erosion and blowing dust. Drought conditions in parts of western and central Oklahoma combined with the freeze that struck the southern plains in mid-April has caused a potential for many Oklahoma wheat acres to be declared a total failed crop and be “zeroed out” by crop insurance adjusters. Other acres will be harvested, but due to poor growing conditions the harvest will be short. Many producers will consider planting some form of summer crop on these acres and may, as part of their production practices, till the soil to prepare the ground for planting, removing residue from the ground and exposing it to the wind, increasing the danger of excessive wind erosion on acres that have been tilled extensively. All this coupled with a prediction of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in western and central Oklahoma can create a recipe for extreme soil loss and blowing dust. Already some cotton farmers in parts of southwest Oklahoma and west Texas have tilled dry land cotton acres for spring planting, exposing the soil to the wind.
“Producers need to look at all their options before they tear into their fields this spring and summer,” Farber said. “Luckily there are alternatives that can help control weeds while reducing costs and exposure to wind erosion.”
According to Farber, farmers and ranchers need to consider alternatives to traditional cultivation such as no-till and minimum-till. These practices not only save soil, they can also save producers money by reducing fuel costs. Studies have shown that no-till crop production requires 3 to 4 gallons of diesel less per acre to produce a crop. In addition, studies by Oklahoma State University have shown that more than one inch of water is lost from the top 15 inches of cultivated soil after the first pass with tillage equipment. These studies also have shown that ground farmed with no-till methods holds more water after each rain event than conventional tilled ground, increasing the amount of sub-soil moisture available for crop production. Additional research has shown that by reducing tillage a producer can also help increase organic matter in their soil and for every 1 percent increase in organic matter, the moisture holding capacity of that soil triples. That equates to additional water for growing crops that OACD’s Farber said will be critical if the long range drought forecasts are correct.
“We have to be mindful of both the current weather conditions and the long range weather outlook,” Farber said. “With the possibility of below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures for the next few months, we need to make sure we use every tool at our disposal to minimize sub-soil moisture loss and exposure to wind erosion. If we can do this in a way that saves us money on diesel costs too, that seems like a good deal to me. The bottom line is that we all need to think before we plow this year and make sure we aren’t opening ourselves up to major soil erosion problems. We don’t need to re-learn the lessons of the 1930’s.”
Producers who would like more information on long term weather conditions and measures to reduce exposure to wind erosion are encouraged to contact their local conservation district office, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission or their local OSU Extension office.
April 21 - Approximately 1,000 FFA and 4-H
Chapter members, parents, coaches, and teachers from across the United States
will converge on Oklahoma City from April 29 – May 1, 2014, as they have for more
than six decades, to compete in the National Land and Range Judging Contest.
This 63rd annual three-day event stresses soil and plant science and
land management and conservation.
After two days of opportunity for contestants to visit practice sites (April 29 – 30), official events will begin on the morning of Thursday, May 1. Land judging and homesite evaluation events will begin at 9:15 a.m. and range judging will begin at 9:30 a.m. The contest events will be followed by an evening awards banquet at in the Great Hall of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Championship trophies will be awarded to team and individual winners in each category.
The Land Judging contestants qualify for the national event by placing among the top five teams at contests in their home states, according to contest cochairman Kim Farber. Farber is president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, one of the contest's principal sponsors.
Contestants are tasked with judging
the adaptability of the land for various purposes including farming, range management,
and home development. The skills developed in competition can be adapted to careers
in fields such as natural resource conservation, environmental and agricultural
management, and homebuilding and construction.
Farber notes the idea of a land judging contest was invented by three Oklahoma conservationists in 1943. They decided which soil qualities could be judged and developed score cards to test skills. The idea caught on and Oklahoma City has been hosting the national contest since 1952.
As soon as the contestants arrive they will go to a practice site near Oklahoma City where numerous pits have been dug to give them a chance to analyze and learn more about Oklahoma soil conditions. Contestants also have the opportunity to examine Oklahoma range conditions for livestock grazing and wildlife management purposes.
The actual contest sites will remain secret until just before each event, so no one has an unfair advantage. Contestants will gather at the Biltmore Hotel to register, receive procedural instructions and await disclosure of the official contest sites. Coaches and contestants will then travel in a caravan to the site that is a tract of land in or near the greater metro area.
*Please note: Contest Headquarters for all three days will be in the South Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel Oklahoma, 401 S. Meridian (Interstate 40 and Meridian), Oklahoma City. There are opportunities for interviews, photos, etc., with participants and facilitators, depending on activities throughout each day. Photo or interview opportunities may also be available at metro area practice sites. Contact Don Bartolina, Land Judging Contest coordinator, 405/245-2324, for locations. If you wish to photograph contestants at contest site on Thursday, please phone 405/245-2324, to find out location after 8:15 a.m. May 1.
Interested in being a contest sponsor? Sponsorships are available starting at the $100 level. For more information, contact Becky Inmon at the Oklahoma County Conservation District, OklahomaCCD@conservation.ok.gov.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb Records Public Service Announcements for 2014 Stewardship Week, April 27-May 4
In honor of Stewardship Week, which is annually celebrated from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in May, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb has recorded three public service announcements to help promote the event through local radio stations.
Initiated in 1955 by the National Association of Conservation Districts, Stewardship Week provides a time to recognize the efforts of farmers and ranchers to protect and conservation the state’s natural resources, working with local conservation districts under the support of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and in cooperation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The 2014 Stewardship Week is themed, “Dig Deeper: Mysteries in the soil.”
“Soil is an essential natural resource that all of us depend on each and every day,“ says NACD President Earl Garber. “The Dust Bowl of the 1930s showed our nation the importance of conservation practices. Farmers and ranchers who have experienced recent droughts know that conservation practices are critical in helping their soil endure, even in the most challenging weather events. Your local conservation districts are working with local landowners to assist in a variety of projects and outreach to improve soil health both now and in the long term.”
During the week local conservation districts will work with newspapers, radio stations, communities, faith-based groups and local schools to promote the concept of Stewardship. This concept involves personal and social responsibility, including a duty to learn about and improve natural resources as we use them wisely, leaving a rich legacy for future generations.
For more information about Stewardship Week, contact Clay Pope, OACD Executive Director, at 405/699-2087 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen to the three public service announcements below.
North Canadian River Watershed Traveling Educator Workshop to be held June 10-12
The Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Blue Thumb and Oklahoma Project WET will conduct a three-day summer workshop exploring the North Canadian River Watershed. The goal of the workshop is to give participants a sense of stewardship and personal ownership in the watershed by creating a greater awareness of how individual actions and choices impact the overall water quality and quantity of the North Canadian River. This workshop is designed to provide educators with the skills, materials and confidence to incorporate watershed stewardship into their classroom.
The workshop will include:
The workshop is open to pre-K through 12th grade classroom teachers or environmental educators from public or private schools or other organizations in Oklahoma. Enrollment is limited to 24 participants and educators within the North Canadian Watershed will be given preference. Registrants must be able to attend all three days of the workshop. Registration fee is $100. For more information, click here or contact Karla Beatty at 405/521-6788 or email@example.com.
OACD Executive Director, Farmer Clay Pope Speaks with BBC News on Effects of Drought, Severe Climate on Oklahoma Farmers
Following a recently released UN report on climate change warning that worldwide food production will be impacted, BBC News interviewed three farmers from around the world, including our very own Clay Pope, to describe the impact of severe climate on their land. Read more and listen the the interview here.
Oklahoma ranked number two among all states in controlling harmful nutrients in waterways according to EPA database; Fifth consecutive year for state to be in the top ten
Oklahoma City— A recent comparison of EPA priority nonpoint source pollutant reduction numbers from across the nation shows that Oklahoma ranks as the number two state in the nation for when it comes to reducing harmful nutrients from our streams and rivers. This is the fifth year in a row that Oklahoma has ranked in the top ten among states in reported non-point source nutrient reductions according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
“This continued improvement in water quality is a testimony to the success of the dedicated, voluntary work done by farmers, ranchers and other landowners in partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act 319 programs and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to address this critical issue,” Farber said. “This success shows what can happen when we work together, respect individuals’ private property rights and when the State and Federal Governments give landowners the financial and technical assistance they need to make changes. Locally-led, voluntary conservation works.”
Water quality numbers recently reported by States to the EPA show that in 2013, Oklahoma’s Nonpoint Source Program led the nation in phosphorus reduction for the third year in a row with more than 1,036,393 pounds of estimated phosphorus load reduced due to voluntary best management practices across the state. The number reflects over 30% of the overall reported reductions of phosphorus in surface water in the entire United States.
In addition, Oklahoma ranked second among the states in reported nitrogen load reduction to streams—an estimated 1,420,749 pounds of nitrogen last year. Oklahoma also had an estimated sediment reduction of over 9,732 tons to streams. When these numbers are reviewed in EPA’s Grants Reporting and Tracking System (GRTS) database, comparison with the levels of nonpoint source pollution reduced by other states shows that Oklahoma ranks number two overall in the reduction of nutrients that pollute our water. This is the fifth year in a row where Oklahoma has ranked in the top ten among states in reported reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus loads, while receiving less than two percent of EPA 319 program funds.
According to Clay Pope, Executive Director of OACD, this reduction shows the success of locally-led conservation efforts in addressing non-point source pollution and helps highlight why locally-led incentive based programs are critical to ongoing efforts designed to address water quality both at the state and federal level.
“By using the delivery system consisting of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts and NRCS, we have been able to use EPA 319 Federal Clean Water Act dollars and Farm Bill Conservation Title funds along with state dollars to partner with landowners in ways that are starting to turn the corner on some of Oklahoma’s toughest water quality problems,” Pope said. “We’re not only controlling pollution, but we are also taking into consideration the financial situation of the local landowner. Clearly we have a great model and all Oklahomans should be proud of this work. We have more to do, but we are moving in the right direction in Oklahoma when it comes to water quality. This is the same kind of approach we used to tame the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, and it shows what can be done when landowners and the government work cooperatively together to solve these kinds of problems.”
Conservation Day at the Capitol Scheduled for Monday, March 24
Conservation leaders will gather March 24, 2014 for Conservation Day at the Capitol. An awards ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Chamber of the Oklahoma State Senate.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb is scheduled to speak and Secretary of Agriculture, Jim Reese, will be in attendance.
The OACD Conservation Awards will be presented in the categories of Outstanding Conservation District, Outstanding District Director and Outstanding Cooperator/Landowner. The awards are sponsored by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and are cosponsored by Chesapeake Energy, the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, respectively.
At 11:30 a.m. a news conference will be held in room 432 B to announce that Oklahoma is again among the top states in addressing water quality. Secretary of Energy and Environment, Michael Teague, Secretary of Agriculture, Jim Reese, State Senator Ron Justice and State Representative Don Armes have been invited to speak.
At 2 p.m. we will be conducting a demonstration of our rainfall simulator in the fourth floor rotunda to demonstrate the benefits of good conservation practices to both production agriculture and the environment.
Throughout the day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., display booths will be exhibited in the Capitol Rotunda on the fourth floor. Exhibitors will include a number of the state's local conservation districts along with state and federal conservation agencies and related nonprofit organizations and companies.
Partnerships Emerging to Improve Soil Health in Oklahoma
March 12, 2014, Norman, OK—Agricultural producers, extension officials, conservation, and government leaders have converged in Norman this week for the annual Oklahoma No-till Conference. Gary O’Neill, USDA-NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) State Conservationist said “Soil is a living and life-giving substance, without which we would perish. As world population and food production demands rise, keeping our soil healthy and productive is of paramount importance. So much so that we believe improving the health of our Nation’s soil is one of the most important endeavors of our time.”
Ray Archuleta, Conservation Agronomist at the NRCS East National Technology Center, in Greensboro, North Carolina and a speaker at the conference, said, “The No-till Conference made a compelling case that cover crops and no-till will get you more from less: Requiring less fuel, less machinery, fewer chemical inputs and less acreage. These ecological farming practices lead to improved profitability, better soil health, more jobs, improved environmental stewardship and a better quality of life.”
Rick Haney, Soil Scientist from the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grassland Soil and Water Research Lab in Temple, Texas agrees, and he adds that “Soil is made up of air, water, decayed plant residue, organic matter from living and dead organisms, and mineral matter. Increasing soil organic matter typically improves soil health.” Haney is part of a team that has developed an integrated approach to soil testing using new methods that focus on integrating soil biology and chemistry.
Haney said that he and Will Briton, scientist at the Woods End Lab in Mt. Vernon, Texas teamed up to develop an open-source, nonproprietary soil fertility method that goes beyond traditional chemical and physical methods used in most soil tests. It’s called the Soil Health Tool. It uses an integrated approach to tell how alive the soil is and it measures the most important nutrient variables.
According to Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), this push to increase the health of our soils not only benefits overall agricultural production, but also helps the environment as well.
“The most exciting thing for me is when you look at the practices we want to encourage to improve soil health, more often than not they are the same practices we are pushing to help address environmental concerns, “ Pope said. “When we want to reduce erosion, reduce non-point source pollution in water, fight climate change or improve wildlife habitat, more often than not we ask producers to do things like switch from conventional tilled cropping systems to no-till crop production.”
Archuleta is a spokesman for the NRCS soil health campaign ‘Unlock the secrets of the Soil.’ He said
“If a farmer wants to improve their soil, there are a few simple guidelines they should follow.” “These include not disturbing the soil or disturbing it as little as possible; growing as many difference species of plants through rotations and a diverse mixture of cover crops; planting cover crops around harvest to keep living roots growing in the soil for as much of the year as possible, and keeping the soil surface covered by residue year round.”
Mike Thralls, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission agreed saying that soil health is the place were production agriculture and natural resource protection intersect.
According to O’Neill, NRCS and the Conservation partnership of local conservation districts and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission are just beginning to tell Oklahoma producers of the benefits of improved soil health. He said, “The Oklahoma no-till conference served as a focal point for telling the message of the benefits of soil health. This is an exciting message and we are glad to be part of the team spreading the message across Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, Carl Albert Center to partner to make ‘Conservation Day at the Capitol’ a ‘Take your Daughter to the Capitol Day.’
Oklahoma City—The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma today announced that they will be working together to make ‘Conservation Day at the Capitol’ on March 24, 2014 a ‘Take your Daughter (or son) to the Capitol Day’. According to OACD President Kim Farber, this new partnership is part of a larger effort on behalf of the Carl Albert Center to promote the consideration of public service as a career choice for all of Oklahoma’s children, but especially a choice for young women.
“OACD is excited to be involved in this partnership,” Farber said. “As the first woman President of OACD, I feel honored to have this chance to help spur the next generation of Oklahomans, especially our young girls, to consider the idea of working in public service and taking part in public involvement and community action. We work to protect and conserve our natural resources and there is no greater natural resource than our children.”
A project of the Carl Albert Center at OU, The Women’s Leadership Initiative seeks to address the historic under-representation of women in politics, public service, and other leadership roles. The mission of the initiative is to educate, inspire and empower women to become political leaders through a series of educational initiatives designed specifically for women in Oklahoma. Studies show that young women are less likely than young men to consider a career in elective office and public service. The Carl Albert center works to change this perspective and help children learn about the legislative process, grow their interest in government and feel empowered to consider careers in public service and elected office.
“The Women’s Leadership Initiative is excited to be partnering with OACD,” said Lauren Schueler, Assistant Director. “We hope by getting more young children, especially young girls, exposed to public service that we are able not only to inspire them to dream bigger through civic engagement but also empower them to pursue those dreams. In addition, we are thankful to the Halliburton Foundation for their support which made producing the handout materials possible.”
Conservation Day at the Capitol will be on March 24, 2014 starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Oklahoma State Capitol at the intersection of 23rd Street and Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Storm fronts need not create Dust Bowl conditions
by Ron Smith, Southwest Farm Press
Article originally featured Jan. 22, 2014 on Southwest Farm Press
Rolling walls of dust moving through Cimarron County, Oklahoma, in early January may have reminded some old timers of the devastation of the Dust Bowl. A cold front that moved into the state from Colorado January 12 did stir up a lot of dust, according to observers, but a return to the devastation of the dust bowl is not likely.
Drought makes the land more prone to blow, says Kenneth Rose, a director for the conservation district. And drought is a common denominator with the dust storms of the 1930s and the 1950s. But different production practices in use now help farmers and ranchers hold soil on the land.
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“Our area has been in ongoing drought conditions off and on since the early 2000s,” Rose said. “And at the moment no change is in sight, as is the case for most of Texas and all the Southwest U.S.”
But landowners have options.
“The best weapon against blowing dust here has been the practice of strict no-till,” he said. “Various forms of minimum till have been used, but in the years when there have been no crops, it has been the two- and three-year old wheat stubble residue that has been our savior from blowing dust when the winds are like they were on that Sunday.
“It was interesting that day to see areas in the frontal cloud that were normal gray clouds and to see other areas that were brown with blowing dust, indicating bare fields. No-till wheat drills that barely disturb the ground have also been a big help in maintaining ground cover.”
Rose understands the need to protect soil. He’s lived through a few dust storms. “My farm has been in our family since homestead days in 1907, and over the years it has been through several of these tough times. I clearly remember as a child growing up in the ‘50s the dust storms that sometimes lasted for days at a time, days when the school bus would be afraid to deliver us to the country, so would drop us off in town. After dark, when the winds would let up, our parents would come pick us up.
“Those memories remain an incentive to protect this fragile land. Of course, irrigation has made a huge difference where water is available and adequate residue is not a problem.”
Reducing tillage and maintaining crop residue on the soil also goes a long way toward preserving the soil and minimizing damage from storms.
Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Completes 2013 Area Meeting Tour
The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) in partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has completed another tour of Oklahoma’s five conservation areas through its annual Area Meetings. In light of the Federal Government shutdown from October 1 through October 16, 2013, this year’s theme was “Locally Led, Not Federally Dead.”
OACD Executive Director, Clay Pope, opened the event by urging districts to work toward greater self-sufficiency and be better prepared to service conservation customers in the event of possible future shutdowns and shrinking federal and state budgets.
NRCS Soil Health Initiative
Depending on the meeting, either Steve Alspach, Assistant State Soil Scientist, or Greg Scott, retired State Soil Scientist represented NRCS to present NRCS's new Soil Health Initiative, which returns conservation’s focus back to where agriculture begins, the soil. The presentation illustrated the tremendous gains in soil health that can be achieved by maintaining cover crops that promote cooler soil, greater water absorption, and increased nutrient retention. Each meeting also featured the firsthand account of a local producer's conservation successes and challenges. Download the NRCS presentation.
The Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA)
The Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA) updated audiences on the history and current status of prescribed burning in Oklahoma. OPBA utilizes planned burning practices to reduce the danger presented by wildfire and to control invasive plant species. They are also engaged in training interested individuals to start their own prescribed burn associations for burning safely and effectively.
A budget panel of OCC Executive Director, Mike Thralls, and OCC District Services and Human Resources Director, Lisa Knauf Owen, provided an outline of the current budget challenges facing the conservation partnership as well as ways districts might move forward in light of receiving less funding. Download the Budget Overview.
In part an answer to tightening budgets, OCC Public Information Officer, Robert Hathorne, discussed the Commission’s new communications strategy, which aims to provide better support to districts and increase the effectiveness of their communications even as funding and staffing decrease. Download the Communications Strategy.
Blue Thumb and Certainty Programs
Following an update on the efforts of the OCC Blue Thumb volunteer water monitoring program, OCC Director of Water Quality Shanon Phillips discussed certainty programs, which would protect landowners who have implemented conservation practices from further regulation for an agreed upon length of time. Phillips detailed an upcoming survey for landowners which will help determine if a certainty program is worth moving forward with in Oklahoma. Download the Agricultural Stewardship Assurance presentation.
Dust Bowl Curriculum
After lunch, educator, Dust Bowl survivor, and friend to anyone she meets, Pauline Hodges, presented the Dust Bowl curriculum she has developed. The free curriculum is available to everyone and is an excellent way to introduce students to the Dust Bowl through interactive learning.
Area winners of the OACD Conservation Awards were recognized in the categories of Outstanding Conservation District, sponsored by Chesapeake Energy, Outstanding District Director, sponsored by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and Outstanding Landowner/Cooperator, sponsored by the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. The state winner will be recognized at the OACD State Meeting March 2-4, 2014, at the Reed Center in Midwest City.
Oklahoma Conservation Districts partner with Dust Bowl survivor and educator Pauline Hodges to produce new curriculum for schools
The Conservation Districts of Oklahoma have contracted with educator and Dust Bowl survivor Dr. Pauline Hodges to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum to help students become aware of the need for conserving land and other natural resources through the lessons of the Dust Bowl, according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
“We are extremely excited to work with Dr. Hodges to create this curriculum and make it available to the schools of our state,” Farber said. “By telling the story of the Dust Bowl we hope to be able to instill in the next generation of Oklahomans an understanding for why it is so important that we protect our natural resources. We cannot tell you how happy we are to be working with Pauline on this project and we are looking forward to helping place this material at the disposal of our state's educators.”
A veteran of more than 50 years in the classroom, Dr. Pauline Hodges has taught in public school and at the university level, serving as a university department chair, the language arts coordinator for one of the country’s largest school districts, and as a national educational consultant. Dr. Hodges is has also served as a member of the board of directors of the National Rural Education Association, including a stint as board president in 1998.
The curriculum created by Dr. Hodges is based upon an
earlier version she used prior to the recent release of the Ken Burn’s film The
Dust Bowl, a production on which she worked as a researcher and in which
she was interviewed and predominantly featured.
According to Farber, the curriculum created by Dr. Hodges is built partially around the film The Dust Bowl with additional assignments utilizing the book Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb, a firsthand account of the conditions in the migrant camps of California. The curriculum will also use parts of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s account of a migrant family who also leave Oklahoma for camps in California. Interviews with survivors whose parents plowed up the land in what would later become the Dust Bowl in the early 1900s only to have it blow away during the “Dirty Thirties” will be included along with excerpts from Timothy Egan’s book The Worst Hard Times The curriculum will also provide a look at federal programs that helped farmers and others survive these terrible times.
Activities students will participate in include writing assignments, speaking assignments, opportunities for students to study soil science and farming practices that contributed to the cause of the disaster and even the cooking of a Dust Bowl era meal.
According to OACD’s Farber, the curriculum will not only provide a great tool for teachers, but will hopefully serve as an opportunity to build a stronger bridge between the work of local conservation districts and local schools.
“Education is the key to making sure that we never again suffer a natural disaster like the one we experienced during the Dust Bowl,” Farber said. “Our hope is that by making this material available to our local schools through our conservation districts, we can insure that the next generation of Oklahomans understand why it is so critical that we protect our natural resources. We learned the hard way in the 1930s what can happen if we don’t take care of the land. Hopefully that’s a lesson we never have to relearn.”
Anyone interested in the curriculum is encouraged to contact OACD Executive Director Clay Pope at 405-699-2087, firstname.lastname@example.org, or to contact their local conservation district.