Stewardship Staff Join NRCS Partners in Training

The New Jersey Audubon Stewardship South team headed North earlier this month to participate in a two-day partners training held by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, created originally as the Soil Erosion Service (SES) in 1933. The SES was formed with temporary funding to address soil erosion by providing practical information on how to protect the land, and expanding important research to find these answers.

View from the top; Terraceland Farm.Less than a year after the formation of the SES, the Dust Bowl brought suspended dust particles from the Midwest all the way to Washington, D.C. With soil clouding out the sun on capitol hill, founder Hugh Hammond Bennett had the perfect case to appeal for long term funding. NRCS has since grown to a nationwide federal agency with field offices in all 50 states and 8 US territories. They are the go-to technical assistance agency for agricultural producers and private landowners interested in employing conservation practices and as an agency allocate millions of dollars in financial assistance every year.

NRCS’ partners training brought together organization, agencies and private entities from all over our great state. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, Cape-Atlantic Soil Conservation District, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NJ Department of Agriculture, Trout Unlimited, Northeast Organic Farming Association and NJ Resource Conservation and Development were just a handful of those in attendance. The first day of classroom training covered topics including the history of NRCS and its roots as the SES, land use classifications, tips on preparing for site visits, and NRCS’s nine step planning process. This information has already proven very useful in the way NJA Stewardship staff plan for visiting private property to advise landowners, which we do often.

The second component was field training at Terraceland Farm in Hunterdon County. This property is a shining example of the collaboration needed to create a successful, cohesive conservation plan. We spent the day touring the site and meeting with NRCS staff members who all played a different role in the planning process. State Soil Scientists outlined the soil types in the region and demonstrated how to classify each horizon in a soil pit from identifying different properties to using a Munsell soil guide. NRCS engineered water management holding area for stormwater runoff through a concrete feed lot.

The State Agronomist defined erosion issues that presented themselves on the crop fields, and how they were remedied with terracing on this parcel with a 17% slope. To us South Jersey folks, this was perhaps the most striking. Working in a region of primarily flat land, we don’t inherently have to consider the issues arising from a field with such a steep slope. At the base of each terrace was a diversion, redirecting runoff from cascading down crop fields and taking sediment along with it. This property could have looked very different if these practices were not employed to protect the soil!

In addition to correcting erosion issues, NRCS Engineers addressed manure storage in an innovative way by separating clean rainwater and redirecting contaminated runoff from a concrete feed lot. By utilizing underground systems, Terraceland Farms can now move their “dirty” water into a crop field to infiltrate through the ground, thereby cleaning the water before it reenters the water table. Essentially they have created a septic leach field to help deal with animal waste. The farmer gained technical assistance with the beginning of the animal waste process as well, working with grazing specialists to score pasture conditions and devise a plan to ensure a healthy, balanced diet for his livestock.

Clean water lake on Terraceland Farm. Clean stormwater is diverted hereState biologists emphasized the importance of unifying wildlife conservation with the producer’s objectives. Considering the potential impacts of planned practices on the plants and animals of the area is never overlooked, and is something that we at Audubon are passionate about. By utilizing spatial data, visiting the site and asking the right questions, you can learn a lot about the wildlife in the area and the farmer and or the landowner’s interest in implementing different conservation practices. Having this knowledge can better align project goals and can warrant tweaking the plan to allow for more habitat in some situations.  NJA Southern Stewardship Staff. Brittany Dobrzynski, Wills Hassler, Trisha Pitcher and Kristen Meistrell.

New Jersey Audubon staff came away from this training with new knowledge and practical skills for working with landowners and farmers, and a fully charged morale for putting more conservation practices on the ground. We would like to thank NRCS and participating partners for organizing and attending this training. It was very helpful to see the collaboration and consider all of the discussions that have gone into making this farm a showcase for conservation. 

We have gained new skills that will benefit us in working on NJA’s Healthy Land and Waters Grants, an initiative in the Delaware River Watershed that works closely with NRCS to provide additional technical and financial assistance to farmers and producers in southern New Jersey. We are now better equipped to work with our partners to the full extent and to consider all these aspects of planning. Together we strive to reduce water use, protect water quality, and reduce soil loss on agricultural lands, all while improving habitat and safeguarding wildlife and natural resources. For more information please contact Brittany Dobrzynski at 609-400-3826 or Brittany.dobrzynski@njaudubon.org.

By: Brittany Dobrzynski