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When it comes to conservation, it’s personal

News editor

Those who believe conservation is a synonym for giving something up would likely change their minds if they dropped by the Marion office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and had a chat with supervisory district conservationist Matt Meyerhoff.

“That’s one of the important parts of economics, to make sure we’re helping someone and not making them give up something on their operation,” Meyerhoff said.

Like any government agency, NRCS has specific programs for various needs, a formal application process, and signing up for programs requires a contractual commitment.

However, a look beyond the formal structure reveals that NRCS is all about crafting conservation options tailored to the individual needs of each farm and ranch operation.

“When someone comes in with an issue or gives us a call, we talk with them about what they see what’s wrong with it, and what their goals are,” Meyerhoff said. “We go out to the field and do an inspection of it. We inventory the resources and formulate alternatives.”

Those alternatives are extensive. The list of options covered by one program is 16 pages of tiny, single-spaced type long.

“That’s just one of them; there’s even more,” Meyerhoff said.

Much of what Meyerhoff does doesn’t involve a formal program. He routinely fields questions and visits operations to provide advice and resources about conservation practices at no cost.

“It comes down to time and what not, but we do provide that service to anyone and everyone,” he said.

Providing technical assistance is also a way Meyerhoff builds relationships with producers that may eventually lead to formal enrollment in an NRCS program.

Some people are initially skeptical of government-based programs, Meyerhoff said, because they expect them to come with burdensome rules and regulations. Over time, Meyerhoff has opportunities to dispel that perception and introduce the contracting process, and some have signed on as long as two years after their initial contacts.

Meyerhoff said when he’s on the road he’s always looking for places that might benefit from his services.

“We may be driving down the road to another producer’s farm and we may see something,” he said. “We can contact them and say, ‘Hey, I noticed this, would you be interested in looking at this. It doesn’t cost anything. We can come out and take a look and let you know.’ Most of the time people will say yes.”

That’s the way a forestry conservation program gained a foothold in the county.

“When you think of Kansas and Marion County, you don’t usually think of forests,” Meyerhoff said. “All the riparian areas along these creeks are considered forest lands. We have a special program for that. We picked a few we could see that had potential and cold-called them.”

Farmers who considered the creek-side tree belts little more than wasteland were surprised by what they learned.

“It has taken off like crazy,” Meyerhoff said. “They’re getting to the point where they’re seeing it as another crop to manage, where it’s for lumber, wildlife habitat, firewood. We have some people looking to set it up so their kids have nut production.”

An energy conservation initiative hasn’t had the same success.

“That is all stuff that no one has taken me up on yet,” Meyerhoff said. “We haven’t had anyone in the county so far do what’s called a conservation activity plan.”

But participation in cropland and rangeland conservation programs is good. Cropland initiatives such as no-till, cover crops, nutrient management, terraces and waterways, and grade stabilization structures have been big, Meyerhoff said. Watering systems for livestock also have been popular.

Whether cropland or rangeland, NRCS programs provide cost-reimbursement to defray the expense of implementing conservation measures, and a cost analysis can reveal long-term financial benefits of the improvements.

“Our whole goal is to help people help the land — it’s our motto,” Meyerhoff said.

More information is available by calling Meyerhoff at (620) 382-3714.

Last modified April 12, 2018

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