And it begins! The 115th Congress

The new year is here and the 115th Congress has been sworn in (as of this morning), but Washington, D.C., is still speculating on who will be President-elect Trump’s secretary of agriculture. A candidate first mentioned months ago – former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue – appears to be back at the top of Trump’s list according to the latest media reports. The secretary of agriculture is one of only two cabinet positions (the other being the secretary of Veterans Affairs) yet to be appointed by the president-elect. Some appointments of interest to conservation districts have been made, however. They include the appointments of U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., to lead the Interior Department and Scott Pruitt, the current attorney general of Oklahoma, to head the EPA.

In Congress, Paul Ryan was once again voted speaker of the House and we expect House committee assignments to be made soon. NACD will be watching that process closely to make sure any new members on relevant House committees are aware of the critical work conservation districts do nationwide. Senate committee assignments were mostly made in December, although each party must ratify those assignments. For both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, the chairmen and ranking members will match that of the 114th Congress, with Rep. Michael Conaway of Texas and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas as chairmen and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan as ranking members.

The same can be said of the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will once again be chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, respectively. Altogether, 55 new House lawmakers and seven new senators were sworn in today. NACD is eager to start developing relationships with these new members of Congress.

NACD, NRCS Introduce RSET Recognition Program

NACD and NRCS are partnering to salute early adopters of the agency’s new Resource Stewardship Evaluation Tool (RSET). RSET Trailblazers are farmers and ranchers who have opted to use a free, comprehensive, and voluntary way of tracking and meeting their conservation goals. Through the RSET Trailblazers program, forward thinking producers who have developed and implemented RSET-derived conservation plans receive official letters of recognition signed by their local district board chair and NRCS district conservationist.

In 2017, NRCS will make RSET available to landowners and managers nationwide. To encourage folks to use the tool, NACD is asking its state contacts to forward information on the RSET Trailblazers program – including templates for the Trailblazers’ recognition letter and news release – to their local districts. You can learn more about RSET and the RSET Trailblazer Recognition Program by contacting NACD Communications Specialist Bill Berry after January 14.

For over four decades, David Barton of Raymond, Mississippi, has worked to boost his yields and enhance the productivity of his soils through conservation practices like cover crops, crop rotation, and no-till.

“We were the first people in Hinds County to ever try no-till,” Barton told Mississippi NRCS’ Candace Chambers. “We had some very troublesome times initially (in the 1980s). It wasn’t very easy to do. Everybody ridiculed us and thought we were fools, but I couldn’t stand to see my land erode. We persevered and we’ve always been innovators.”

Barton currently farms about 2,000 acres of primarily wheat and soybeans, and occasionally grain sorghum, cotton, and corn. He has worked through NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to plant cover crops and install overfall pipes, flashboard risers, riparian buffers, and levees. He also utilizes irrigation water management and integrated pest management tools.

“Mr. Barton has taken advantage of the EQIP program and has had three contracts. He’s an innovator,” said Don Lackey, Mississippi NRCS soil conservation technician. “He’s not afraid to try new things and that’s the reason why he’s been so successful with his farm.”

“NRCS has helped me and encouraged me since I got involved with them in 1973,” said Barton. “I’m about to be 77 years old and I still believe in the work we’re doing.”

To read David Barton and his wife Martha's Soil Health Champions profile – and the profiles of our other soil health champs – visit the NACD Soil Health Champions webpage. If you or someone you know is a leader in soil health and would like to become a member of this growing, progressive network please contact NACD North Central Region Representative Beth Mason at or 317-946-4463 for more information.

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