It was all about dirt at a recent Exchange Club of Cleveland meeting when Jason Makamson, soil conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service, was the guest speaker.
The NRCS provides farmers all over America with financial and technical assistance to voluntarily put conservation on the ground, helping the environment and agricultural operations.
Makamson got his degree in environmental science and a minor in chemistry from Delta State University and was born and raised in Cleveland.
"The soil and water conservation district is our link to the local producers and the local governments and landowners here. Our agency was originally started in 1932 as the Soil and Water Conservation Service. We are the technical agency for USDA," said Makamson.
His district was created to do research and development for on farm demonstrations on soil and water conservation.
Beginning in 1932, the Soil and Water Conservation district continued to make efforts to work with farmers and ranchers to better the environment.
In 1977, The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act was put in place and provides the United States Department of Agriculture broad strategic assessment and planning authority for the conservation, protection, and enhancement of soil, water, and related natural resources.
According to the RCA, USDA appraises the status and trends of soil, water, and related resources on non-Federal land and assesses their capability to meet present and future demands; evaluates current and needed programs, policies, and authorities; and develops a national soil and water conservation program to give direction to USDA soil and water conservation activities.
In the early years, the lines of districts generally followed county lines and are paid for with county dollars, according to Makamson.
"The Soil and Water Conservation District is a county entity. She is paid through county tax dollars. Also, she takes in membership dollars. Any landowner in the county can have voluntary membership. Those are educational funds. What we receive in donation dollars are used to put on field days for schools, the annual tree giveaway, outreach to go out into the schools, and publications," he said.
"NRCS is one of the few federal agencies where we are allowed to contract directly with the landowner or with the producer. We don't have to go through a third party bidding process or through contractors. It gives us more ability and free range to give our money and get it out to spend quickly," he said.
The organization offers financial and technical assistance for conservation projects.
"A lot of that here in Bolivar County is spent on land leveling. Our two major resource concerns are irrigation savings and sediment and nutrient runoff. The aquifer is depleting. We are pumping more water out for irrigation purposes than what's coming in. our major goal is to make those farmers that are already irrigating, make their systems more efficient," he said.
Financial assistance is offered for land leveling, flow meters, irrigation moisture sensors and "just about anything you can think of that will make them more efficient on irrigation, we offer those practices either through technical assistance or financial assistance," he said.
The other issue in Bolivar County is sediment and nutrient run off.
"Along with those same practices, with land leveling you benefit from both. We have practices that help farmers reduce the amount of fertilizer they're using, which lowers sediment run off," he said.
The program is very competitive and Makamson said in 10 years, Bolivar County spends between seven and 10 million dollars in federal funds for these projects.
"All of our programs are financial assistance. None of this is free to the farmers or landowners. We have a set payment that we are willing to pay," he said.
"Most people see all of the direct benefits. People come to me and say 'you're spending my tax dollars making their land better.' We all get indirect benefits as well. We all get cleaner water, which is the goal. We're all saving water.
"The other thing is research has shown the dollars turn over in the county seven times. For every dollar that comes into the county, it's rolled over seven times for public businesses that are directly tied to that dollar. Whether it's by taking a loan out from the bank, hiring contractors, buying fuel and parts in the county, that federal dollar goes a long way. Those dollars coming in make a major economic impact on the county," he said.
Some of the other programs done by soil and water conservation are the land retirement programs.
"They are WRP program, which takes land out of cultivation and goes back into wetland. We do 100 percent of the restoration on it. The landowner signs up and if they get in we pay them a set amount for an easement we place on the property that protects it forever. In the Delta, our prices right now are $2,900 for crop land, $2,000 for CRP, and $1,800 for woodlands," said Makamson.
The other program is the CRP program, which is not taking any applications.
"That is a nationwide program and is capped out. They will only take so many acres. You temporarily take land out of production, plant trees or grass on it, and you receive an annual rental payment from the government for 15 years. At the end of the 15 years you may have the option to re-enroll," he said.
These programs were created to take these lands out of production and put them back to their original state.
"There is an awful lot of land here in the Delta that should have never been cleared up for farming. Depending on who you argue with, there's 100 percent of land here that should never have been cleared up for farming but it has been and these programs give folks some options if they want to take that ground out of production," said Makamson.
Makamson said the district is always accepting donations for different projects and awareness efforts.
For more information or to make a donation call 662-846-1448.