“I sometimes get a little troubled when people think that agriculture and wildlife conservation can’t coexist, but they’re very much compatible,” White said. “It is possible to restore, maintain, protect and improve things for wildlife while at the same time maintaining or increasing agricultural productivity.”
The Expo at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center provided more than 100 acres of hands-on demonstrations from the top manufacturers of trucks, tractors, ATVs, UTVs, archery equipment and land management technology throughout the weekend, August 12-14. Sponsors like Bass Pro Shops and Ram Trucks, as well as guest performer Jeff Foxworthy, helped draw a crowd of more than 20,000 people.
NRCS was one of hundreds of organizations with exhibits demonstrating ways to best manage and conserve the land. The Expo was held in conjunction with the Mossy Oak True North Seminar Summit, a series designed specifically for hunters, landowners, and land managers wanting to get the most from their properties through wildlife management and habitat development.
“We designed the seminar summit to resemble a land and wildlife management university with cutting-edge topics presented by the nation’s top experts,” said Brian Murphy, CEO of Quality Deer Management Association.
White gave one of two keynote speeches over the weekend, which he used to describe best land management practices and present before and after images of successful conservation initiatives.
One of these initiatives is the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. With guidance from NRCS, farmers created almost half of a million acres of “instant” wetlands for migratory birds. Developed in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the “instant” wetlands provided almost half of the kilocalories needed by the bird population of Louisiana, said White.
Those same acres are being agriculturally productive this summer with rice, cotton and soybean.
“In the summer, these landscapes produce food for us and this fall they’re going to be flooded to provide habitats for wildlife,” he said. “Next spring, they’ll drain them again.”
In order to best communicate the success of initiatives that allow farmers and ranchers to restore wildlife while also being productive, White hopes to “beef up” the science and technology within NRCS to quantify the results of conservation. Knowing what is actually occurring on the land within areas like nutrient management and edge-of-field monitoring will help farmers and ranchers understand the benefits of conservation, he said.
This can be demonstrated with the Sage Grouse Initiative, which has the technology to show that two more inches of height in residual vegetation will translate in an eight percent increase in nesting survival.
“Now we’re being able to say if we increase grass height two inches, we can improve conservation acres,” he said.
The best way to continue improving communication through technological advances like the Sage Grouse Initiative with the upcoming budget cutbacks is to streamline and consolidate as many areas as possible, White said. Ways to make NRCS programs more efficient and less costly include improving administrative and business processes. One example is the ranking system for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which he says could be designed to provide funding more often instead of just every six months. That way, field workers from NRCS could work with a farmer and write up a contract on the same day to begin field work right away.
“I think the whole area of program consolidation is one that Congress will take a real close look at for the 2012 Farm Bill. I think there is a lot to gain by eliminating duplications and adding some more consistency,” he said. “We’ve got a mish mash of stuff and I would hope that Congress takes a serious look at how we can improve and make it simpler for the customers out there.”
White was named Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2009. He began his 33-year career with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a conservation aid in Missouri. He was detailed to Senator Tom Harkin’s Capitol Hill office, where he helped the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry craft the Conservation Title of the 2008 Farm Bill. His work in Washington, D.C. also included two details to the staff of Senator Richard Lugar, in support of agriculture committee work on energy and alternative fuels and the 2002 Farm Bill.
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