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Ag Club learns about conservation planning

Conservation planning was the focus of discussion at SMC's January Agriculture Club meeting. Sherman Reed, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) representative, gave students in Southwestern Michigan College's and Michigan State University's shared agricultural programs insights into soil conservation, as well as careers within that field.

The NRCS provides technical assistance to protect and conserve soil, water, air, plants and wildlife on privately-owned lands throughout America and the world.

Reed called the NRCS's brochure “Conservation Planning — Productive Lands, Healthy Environment,” “the backbone of our agency as we work one-on-one with landowners, helping that person improve their land.” 

A conservation plan ensures unique natural resources are managed in the best way possible while maintaining sustainability and productivity. Other benefits may be helping a landowner comply with environmental regulations, qualifying for USDA programs that can help implement conservation measures, adapt to changing farm or ranch operational goals and establish an implementation schedule that fits the landowner’s timetable and resources.

A free conservation plan is the first step in managing natural resources. With NRCS advice and science-based technology, a landowner or land manager selects the best combination of conservation practices. “We create a portfolio of your property,” Reed said, so that the conservation plan includes landowner goals, an aerial photograph or diagram of the land, a soils map and soils description, resource inventory data, such as forage or crop production potential, a list of the landowner’s conservation decisions, the location and schedule for applying conservation practices and systems and maintenance information for conservation measures installed.

Reed also provided students with glossy “Conservation Choices” guides profiling 30 conservation and environmental farming practices — woodland management, planned grazing systems, manure storage, farm ponds, wildlife upland habitats, wildlife food plots, filter strips, grade control structures, critical area planting, contour strip cropping, diversion, grassed waterways, contour buffer strips, contour farming, field borders, well protection, windbreaks, pasture plantings, stream protection, manure testing, tree planting, conservation tillage, wetland enhancement, crop rotation, nutrient management, wetlands, pest management, water and sediment control basins, terraces and cover crops.

Reed, a North Carolina native who earned his 1995 master’s degree in agricultural mechanization from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, cites an internship as key to steering him into a 23-year career as a conservationist. “Soil conservation was the furthest thing from my mind,” Reed said. “I had an opportunity as an undergrad to work for what was then the Soil Conservation Service in a paid internship. I was determined to work for Case International or John Deere because I was machine-oriented. But Case and John Deere were laying off at that time. I went to a job fair at the university and was told once I completed my internship, I had a job.”

The NRCS employs 11,500 people in 2,900 offices. Ninety percent work outside Washington, D.C. Four areas comprise NRCS in Michigan. Reed's area covers 19 counties including support offices in Berrien Springs, where his office is located, and one in Cassopolis.

In regular business, the Agriculture Club elected Gaily Peet vice president and Tricia Taylor to head up community outreach. Advisor Stacey Rocklin promoted the opportunity for interested club members to attend Ag Action Day at Kalamazoo Valley Community College Jan. 26. Rocklin also reported on area job openings to help students line up internships. Planned spring activities include the second annual high school Ag Day, a cooking demonstration in March and a plant sale at the greenhouse April 20-21.