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Bulloch County Success Stories

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Third Generation Farmer Conserves Resources through CSP

By Amelia Hines, Public Affairs Specialist, Watkinsville

For years, it took Morris Prince three times as much energy, money, and labor to farm his cotton fields as it does now. He remembers that it would take him three trips to till the land whereas it takes only one pass these days.

Strip-tilling has made all the difference. “The strip-tilling; I love that. That’s the way to go right there,” Prince said.

This tilling method saves time and energy by reducing the amount of tillage performed.  Crop residue is left intact because it helps protect soil moisture, helps prevent run-off and rebuilds organic matter in the soil. Strip-tilling saves energy and money by not requiring the farmer to makes as many equipment passes as conventional tillage requires.

Prince credits the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for helping his operation become more efficient. CSP is a voluntary conservation program that encourages producers to address resource concerns by undertaking additional conservation activities; and improving, maintaining, and managing existing conservation activities.

Prince, who has always tried to conserve natural resources on his property, learned about the program through his involvement on the Bulloch County Farm Service Agency (FSA) committee. One day he was visiting his local FSA office and, “I picked up one of the brochures while I was in there signing up for one of the programs,” Prince said.

Prince applied for a CSP and was approved for a five-year long contract in 2011.

In addition to utilizing the strip-till method, Prince has implemented other practices such as cover crop and crop rotation over the last year.

Prince plants wheat and rye during the winter months to limit soil erosion. Every two years he will rotate his cotton fields and plant peanuts. By doing this, Prince helps the soil in those fields build up nitrogen. This helps keep the fields healthy.

Prince said he has seen multiple benefits of the program; benefits that have helped him better manage natural resources on his land for years to come.

Bulloch County is a designated StrikeForce county in Georgia. The USDA StrikeForce Initiative is designated to help relieve persistent poverty in high-poverty counties.

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High Tunnel Makes the Difference for Lee Farms

By Amelia Hines, Public Affairs Specialist, Watkinsville

Jay-Jay and Victoria Lee grew familiar with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) over the years as they worked to make a living on their Statesboro farm. NRCS personnel had helped the couple by providing technical assistance but that working relationship grew after the couple saw an article in a farming magazine.

The article in FarmTek discussed high tunnels and how the structures protect produce and extend the growing season for vegetables like tomatoes and squash. As they read more, the Lees learned that the NRCS offered a program that provided not only technical assistance in constructing high tunnels but that the agency also offered cost-share assistance to eligible farmers like them.

As far as the Lees were concerned, any opportunity to grow the family’s 500 acre farm was worth a try. They visited their local NRCS office in Statesboro where they talked with Soil Conservationist Jason Gatch about the agency’s conservation assistance programs.

“They’re very conscientious farmers; not just in money but in the way they manage the land. They hold themselves to a high standard,” Gatch said.

After they applied for an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract and were approved, the Lees put their plan into action.

The 2011 EQIP contract provided financial assistance for the Lees to construct a high tunnel, technical assistance to help them treat critical areas around the structure to control rain water runoff, and plant cover crops to prevent soil erosion on a few acres of their fields where they grow row crops.

Lee said building the high tunnel was a good decision for them. “It’s been an asset.” He added that the growing season has also benefited, “It put me about 3 to 4 weeks earlier for harvest. The yield hasn’t seen a lot of difference pound wise but it’s in time; stretches it [the growing season] out.”

In addition to having an earlier harvest, Lee said that the high tunnel has helped some of his produce aesthetically. “The skins of my tomatoes are almost flawless.”

High tunnels also help keep foliage dry during rainy weather and this also helps fight disease.

The Lees acknowledge that a high tunnel wouldn’t have been feasible for them without the financial assistance provided by NRCS. “The cost-share is a bridge for me,” Lee said. A bridge that now helps the family take produce from the seedling stage in their greenhouses to full maturity in their high tunnel where they can be harvested sooner while the row crops in the field continue to grow.

Bulloch County is a designated StrikeForce county in Georgia. The USDA StrikeForce Initiative is designated to help relieve persistent poverty in high-poverty counties.

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Lifelong Farmer Switches to Conservation Tillage

Clarence Prince, a life long row crop farmer from Bulloch County, has had tremendous success with his conservation tillage system. Prince produces 1,100 acres of cotton and 400 acres of peanuts. He has 350 acres under irrigation. Prince’s farm was highlighted on the Burns-Goodlatte Congressional Agriculture Tour in March of 2004 where he discussed the importance and benefits of cropland irrigation. Prince began strip-tilling 400 acres five years ago as a test.

Two years later, he was convinced and determined that conservation tillage was the way to go. He then converted his whole cotton and peanut operation to 100% strip-till. He has applied various other practices applied to this operation which include terraces, tile outlets, and grass waterways.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service has played a big role by providing technical assistance in planning, applying, and managing these conservation practices throughout this farming operation. Prince said that he has noticed an abundant amount of benefits that come with these conservation efforts including the increase of wildlife population, reduction in soil erosion, protection of water quality, and an increase in production.

Dennis Akins enthusiastically calls his Georgia Grazing Land Conservation Coalition (GGLCC) project “back forty to front forty”. According to Akins, “my pasture and cows were on the back of the farm just taking care of themselves. The cows grazed on land that would not grow anything but grass because it was so low and wet.”

Akins has received cost-share in the past from the USDA for planting trees and making drainage improvements; however, he was not aware of cost-share assistance from groups like the Georgia Grazing Lands Conservation Coalition (GGLCC) until local conservationists informed him about the opportunity.

Akins used the GGLCC program to plant grass, and install fence and water lines. He also fenced in planted pines so he could use the acreage for winter cover and browsing. “My cows graze land that was planted in cotton, soybeans, and peanuts in the past. My peanut and cotton profit margins have almost disappeared, but we can see a profit in cows and tobacco,” offers Akins.

Akins’ cows have moved from the back of the farm to the front of the farm where they are managed on a daily basis and record keeping is more than an old note pad thrown on the dash of the truck. “I wish more cost-share programs could work as easily as the GGLCC project worked for us,” Akins said.

Chap Cromley of Nellwood Farms remarks, “I have always worked closely with Extension and NRCS, but I was not aware of the interest the GGLCC has in Georgia cattle operations.

Wanting to increase my profit along with the number of cattle on my farm were the factors that prompted me to apply for the GGLCC project. Cattle prices had been down and my operating money was depleted when I heard about the program, but prices were on their way up again and that was encouraging.

While I was filling out my project application, I noticed that my record keeping, including feed on hand, needed improving.” Improved bermudagrass varieties are the mainstay of Cromley’s grazing operation. With the GGLCC project, he focused on clean water and fencing to improve his cattle rotation.

Cross fencing and water lines were installed in most of his pastures. Cromley had recently purchased digital scales and hay testing equipment to track forage quality and weight gains.

According to Cromley, “This project has increased the efficiency of my operation allowing me to stock more cattle and to feed less hay during dry summers. I have already taken more marginal cropland out of crop production and planted it to bermuda grass to expand my cattle operation. We have also started a marketing association to group and sell our cattle to Midwest feed lots.” 

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