Soil may well be our country’s most precious natural resource – we’d certainly starve without it. But it’s so much more than an agricultural substrate. Soil is key to the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles – abuse it and you negatively affect the air you breathe and the streams that flow nearby, and you’ll contribute to the demise of scores of locally adapted species. On the flip side, if you take good care of your soil, it will take care of you. But the formula for maintaining fine soil is a complex one. Thanks to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), you have a whole team of experts to help you figure it out.
Seventy-five years ago, the United States faced a major economic depression and an environmental disaster called the “Dust Bowl.” From these events, a government agency was created called the Soil Conservation Service, an agency that still exists today. Now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service, it has staffs located in nearly every county in every state. The technically trained conservation specialists work one-on-one with private landowners to help manage and maintain the quality and productivity of our natural resources.
In Illinois, NRCS recently launched a campaign called “Good Grazing Makes Good $ense!” that targeted livestock operations and encouraged use of grazing management systems that are sustainable and profitable. A large part of what the NRCS does is provide information and tools to help operators in their quest for solutions that work and that support the land and the ecosystem long-term.
“We know grazing is both an art and a science,” says Grassland Specialist Matt Bunger. “With NRCS and all our partners, we can help folks find success on both sides of the equation.”
Because grazing and good grass/forage production are key to so many different kinds of operations, NRCS reaches out and offers help to beef cattle grazers as well as those who graze sheep, goats and buffalo – any herd that eats grass. For clients like these, NRCS offers assistance with grass species selection, soil quality improvements, fencing options, watering systems, weed control, erosion reduction – nearly every aspect of the job. NRCS examines the land, your objectives, and shows you a variety of options that fulfill both. If you are interested and eligible, a federal conservation program may cover installation and costs of the practice, or you can do the work on your own or use a local contractor.
The work associated with projects like these may seem old-fashioned or simplistic to some. But all these undertakings take place in the 21st century, where everything is now web-based, digital and high-tech. NRCS can bridge that gap for a landowner because staff members offer workable and sensible conservation practices that fit the land, the soil and slope, and that solve unique resource problems.
NRCS has technical information available online, or you can meet with a staff member to discuss your needs and create a customized conservation plan for your little piece of the planet. As always, NRCS staff work with producers and landowners strictly on a voluntary basis.
Whether you’re new to a lifestyle that’s connected to the land, or you’ve been in the business for years and are interested in or ready to do a little more, consider whether the expertise of technical specialists at the NRCS could help you fix a resource problem or offer a new sustainable option that could improve production or save some money. Visit www.NRCS.usda.gov and track down your new local natural resource neighbor at NRCS.
The NRCS Mission
“Helping People Help the Land”
covers all relevant resources: soil, water, air, plants, animals and humans. NRCS offers science-based technical assistance, programs and financial support, as well as guidance and engineering designs and specifications to guide landowners and land managers in their particular land-based endeavors:
- Farm operations — large and small
- Grazing or pasture systems
- Wetland restoration or floodplain management
- Non-industrial forest/woodland strategies
- Prairie management or creation
- Wildlife habitat development
- Water quality improvements
- Soil erosion and sediment control tactics
- Invasive species control
- And more.