Northern Plains Region Leaders Meeting Convenes in Montana

On June 4, NACD's Northern Plains Region Leaders Meeting kicked off with a tour of the Lolo Forest and the work the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is doing to salvage  timber. The annual meeting, which takes place near Charlo, Mont., brings together 45 conservation district leaders and various partners to discuss issues affecting the Northern Plains, updates from NACD and partners, as well as tours showcasing the area.

This morning, NACD President-elect Tim Palmer provided an update about the progress of the farm bill and described NACD’s technical assistance grants. The meeting continues through June 6 with presentations on soil health, grazing and pollinators, discussions about communicating the conservation district story, and an agricultural tour around Flathead Lake.

Indiana Field Day Builds Competitive Advantage

On Friday, June 1, the Big Pine Creek Watershed and the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI) coordinated a field day to discuss and showcase the conservation efforts, practices and impacts within the Big Pine Creek watershed.

Rick Clark and his family hosted the field day at Clark Land and Cattle in Williamsport, Ind., that combined both informative panel discussions and field demonstrations. The first panel discussion of the day included Rick Clark, John Boerman of the Benton and Warren County Dairies, Karen Scanlon of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, former United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller of Land O’ Lakes SUSTAIN, and Lexi Clark of Field to Market. The panel focused on the supply chain and what it means to provide consumers with products they want in a sustainable and responsible way.

Attendees participated in field science rotations which included stations on cover crop basics and innovation, drainage: infiltration and soil moisture, soil management, and ag sustainability to better understand the Clark farm’s regenerative agricultural operation. Demonstrations included planting soybeans into standing cereal rye followed by a chevron roller crimper, a rainfall simulator, a soil pit and water infiltration.

The field day wrapped up with an opportunity to hear from farmers on the ways they are incorporating good soil health practices into their operations and the positive economic and environmental impacts they are experiencing. The farmer panel included four Indiana farmers with different backgrounds, operations and levels of experience, showcasing the ways producers can farm in a more sustainable way by using cover crops, crop rotation and no-tilling and still have a positive economic return.

On April 22, Earth Day, the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Oklahoma Farming and Ranching Foundation, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, Oklahoma State University, ITC Holdings Corporation, USDA NRCS and the Noble Research Foundation came together with the Sand County Foundation to award the first Leopold Conservation Award in Oklahoma to NACD Soil Health Champion Jimmy Emmons and his wife Ginger.

"To me, the Leopold is almost like winning the Nobel Prize," Emmons said. "It's the highest accolade out there for conservation and really sticks out to producers with good stewardship ethics. So, we're very humbled by that and honored to be a part of that process."

The Emmons operate a 100% no-till 2,000-acre farm and ranching operation in Leedey, Okla., where Jimmy is the third generation to farm this land. In the semi-arid landscape of the Great Plains, Emmons has been focused on rehabilitating the land – building healthy soils for a productive agricultural operation with fewer inputs such as fertilizer and insecticide, and less irrigation. Jimmy has been building a soil health system with many parts that all play a vital role, such as crop rotation, cover crops, no-tilling, pollinator strips, and rotational grazing of their cow-calf operation.

Jimmy and Ginger are generous with their time, experience and knowledge when it comes to conservation and soil health. Traveling all across the country, Emmons encourages his peers to step outside their comfort zone and try implementing some of these soil health practices with the assistance of their local NRCS office and conservation district. “The big thing about soil health is it works everywhere. You just have to manage your system for your precipitation and your atmosphere,” Emmons said. He and Ginger have also hosted many field days and demonstrations on their operation – giving producers, conservation professionals and many others a chance to see conservation practices in action, as well as the positive effects they have on the land.

Within a week of Emmons receiving the Leopold award, his operation was severely impacted by the Rhea wildfires that devastated Oklahoma and Kansas. Roughly half of Emmons’ 6,500 acres of rangeland were burned during the fires that broke out in western Oklahoma due to the drought. Despite the catastrophic damage he and his family are experiencing, Emmons remains positive and is confident the conservation practices he implemented not only prevented the fire from doing more damage on his operation, but will decrease the recovery time.

“Back in 1926, we managed our brush to create a fire break using Eastern red cedars,” Emmons said. “This prevented the wildfire from spreading further on our property, and the managed brush made it easier for firefighters to reach as opposed to those who hadn’t managed their brush. I am confident the management practices we’ve implemented on our rangeland have resulted in better soil and better water holding capacity, so it will recover quicker, and we’re already seeing that. On my own operations, I can tell where we’ve done a better job managing the rangeland – grazing, high-stock density and the better soil health. We’re seeing the grass coming back from the burn quicker than in the areas that we haven’t managed as well. So, I know what we’ve been preaching and practicing is really making the difference there.”

To learn more about Jimmy and Ginger Emmons’ operation, be sure to watch this video on the 2017 Leopold Conservation Award in Oklahoma and check out his NACD Soil Health Champion profile. If you or someone you know would like to know more about the NACD Soil Health Champion Network, please contact NACD North Central Region Representative Beth Mason at or 317-946-4463.

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