Assistant state conservationist wants to arm farmers with knowledge
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 03/29/2012 10:08 AM
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Six years ago, Kasey Taylor worked on the national level to simplify how the Conservation Reserve Program was administered and serviced in the field.
Some of the changes she helped to implement while on the national Natural Resources Conservation Service assignment are still used today, Taylor said last week from her office in Rochester. Taylor is Minnesota's assistant state conservationist for field operations in Area 6, which covers 14 counties in southeast Minnesota.
Taylor joined NRCS in 1994. Her enthusiasm for conservation is contagious as she describes new plans she hopes to implement in the continually evolving field.
The agency is emphasizing soil health, water quality and certainty.
Area 6 will focus on soil health this summer during field days conducted by Jim Fritz and Peter Hartman. Fritz, district conservationist in Wabasha County, will become an area resource conservationist on April 8. Hartman will be the area resource soil scientist. Together, the duo will do field days to show the benefits of buffer strips, strip till, no till or other conservation practices.
She understands it's expensive to farm and risky to farm. That's why she wants to provide landowners with the latest information on conservation and how it can not only be good for the environment, but also their balance sheet.
The district conservationist position in Wabasha County will be filled, Taylor said.
Drainage water management is a relatively new field and the NRCS is working to develop a standard for bioreactors, said Mark Kanable, area program specialist.
There is cost share for structures required for drainage water management and for planning the tile. Work is also ongoing for wetlands used to treat field runoff before entering a stream or ditch.
Another challenge for the NRCS is to get staff in the field. A national streamline initiative team is looking for ways to have field staff spend 90 percent of their time in the field.
Three district conservationists in area 6 are piloting a program that is supposed to allow them to spend more time in the field from February through September 30. The results of the pilot programs will be compiled and the kinks worked out before the program goes live nationwide in 2013.
The payment rate program is also undergoing changes. This year, 15 practices have moved to a regional payment schedule. The regional is Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Next year, everything will be regional and the area will expand to include the entire central region of the United States, stretching from North Dakota and Minnesota to Texas and Louisiana. Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana are are included in the central region.
In the early 2000s, NRCS saw reduced budgets and reduced the number of regional offices. Today, the three regional conservationists are based in Washington, D.C. The agency has been fortunate to have good chiefs who are proactive and want to keep moving the agency forward while providing topnotch service to landowners, Taylor said.
As part of the Blueprint for Stronger Service, one Farm Service Agency office in Area 6 is slated for closure. Depending on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's decision, the FSA office in Waseca County will close. Taylor said the NRCS will stay in Waseca at this point. In 1994 through 1999, the NRCS went through consolidation, she said, and it was not an easy process. It was necessary, however, to be proactive.