In the News

National, state NRCS officials on Moran's NW Kan. conservation tour

Hays Post | Becky Kiser

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, is in northwest Kansas today to talk with ag producers about water and soil conservation issues.

Federal and state Natural Resources Conservation Service officials are joining Moran's 15th annual conservation tour, which includes five stops across Sheridan, Logan, Thomas and Sherman counties.

Operators of the Hoxie Feed Yard, Smoky Valley Ranch in Oakley, Colby's Ducks Unlimited Wetland Reserve Easement Project, and the water technology farm at Goodland's Northwest Technical College will discuss  water and soil conservation, wetland restoration, grazing lands, and prescribed burning.

Oklahoma native Kevin Norton is the USDA’s Acting Chief for Natural Resources Conservation Service, and oversees $4 billion in agricultural conservation programs across the nation.

“So we need to hear from the local people," Norton said Wednesday night in Hays at a private dinner for the tour participants.

"We need to be able to adjust our programs and be effective in delivering the programs to the agricultural producers so that they can be economically sustainable, environmentally sustainable. Because these environmental operations feed the communities, the state and, actually, the world," Norton said.

Technology is used in nearly all agricultural operations, and it's moving fast, says Norton, who grew up on a farm in south-central Oklahoma.

He talked about the diminishing water supply in the Ogallala Aquifer. "There's a lot of pressure on that aquifer."

"You look at where we are today with irrigation [for crops]. Instead of sprinkler systems that sprinkle off the top, they have drop nozzles. We have low pressure systems that conserve a lot of water and put it at the right place, reducing evaporation losses. It's efficient from a water use standpoint. It's also efficient in energy use."    

The Natural Resources Conservation Service was established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture following the Dust Bowl days in the 1930s.

Karen Woodrich, the NRCS State Conservationist based in Salina, said water quantity and quality remains a top concern for Kansas farmers.

“Sometimes we’re in drought. Sometimes we have floods. Sometimes we get those highly erodible winds whipping through," Woodrich said.

"So we want to do whatever we can to be prepared and try to use the best kind of science to be able to keep our soil where it’s at and increase our water-holding capacity so we can grow crops and feed the world."

There are NRCS offices in all 105 Kansas counties, sometimes paired with USDA Soil Conservation Services. The SCS was created by the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, signed by President Roosevelt on April 27, 1935, and placed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Woodrich says NRCS relies a lot on its sister agencies within USDA to produce the science for conservation practices, including land grant universities and agricultural research centers.

Kansas State University is the ag science leader in Kansas.

"We work with them to try to understand the science and really listen to what the numbers say.

NRCS ties its various programs together in soil health-related activities.

"We truly believe that if you improve the health of your soil, you can start growing your ability within the soil profile to retain more water, to do a better job of keeping the moisture in the soil profile and be available to those crops when they need it."

Woodrich is a soil scientist originally from Wisconsin.

Hays and northwest Kansas county NRCS and SCS employees are also participating in Thursday's event.

The conservation tour will also stop at the Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park in Logan County.