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Conservation Corner

Current Newsletter: Volume 4, Issue 1
Looking for previous issues? View the archive
View as a PDF (printer friendly version) Conservation Corner 4-2

UofA Division of Agriculture New Website
Arkansas Watershed Stewards
New Farm Bill Conservation Changes
Watershed Focus: Lower St. Francis
Focus on Conservation: Conservation Cover (327)

New Website

University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and Extension has a fresh new look to their website.  Soft launch of the new site was 2/26/14 with plans to have the final updates and changes finished by March of this year.

UofA Division of Ag Centinial Logo

For more than a century, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service has been working to help improve the quality of life for all in the Natural State. Now, we’ve made a few improvements of our own, creating a website that’s easier to use, no matter where you are, so you can find the answers that you’ve come to expect from us.
Find all of the UofA Division of Agriculture’s resources on water conservation, irrigation, water quality, stormwater, and water sustainability on their new easy to navigate on any platform website at:

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Arkansas Watershed Steward Program

Arkansas Watershed Steward "Citizens Caring for Water Resources"

There have been several articles about and links referencing the Arkansas Watershed Steward Program, its events, and workshops in previous editions of Conservation Corner. But, just what exactly is the Arkansas Watershed Steward Program anyway?

The Arkansas Watershed Steward Program is an educational training offered by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and other partnering agencies and organizations. The purpose of the program is to promote healthy watersheds, increase understanding of the potential causes of water resource degradation and give people the knowledge and tools they need to identify, prevent and/or resolve water quality problems.

The broad goals of the Arkansas Watershed Steward Program are to:

  • Make citizens more aware of and knowledgeable about water issues.
  • Help individuals become community leaders in dealing with water issues.
  • Facilitate local efforts and activities to improve water quality.
  • Improve and protect the quality of local water resources.

Did you know there is an Arkansas Watershed Steward Handbook? It’s free even!

The Arkansas Watershed Steward Handbook: A Water Resource Training Curriculum was written for residents of the state wanting to learn more about watershed stewardship and for participants in the Arkansas Watershed Steward Program (AWS). This handbook presents the background, principles and tools needed to become a “Watershed Steward” or to enhance existing stewardship skills and knowledge. It is designed to be an educational resource and training guide for potential Watershed Stewards throughout the state to use and share in the preservation, protection and improvement of water resources in Arkansas.

Get your free to download .pdf of The Arkansas Watershed Handbook here:

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What Does the New Farm Bill Mean For Conservation?

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) was signed into law on 2/4/14 after the 2008 Farm Bill had expired and been extended a couple of times. The bill provides $56.7 billion for conservation programs over the next 10 years, about 6% of the total outlay of funds for the 2014 bill, and roughly $6 billion less than what was provided under the 2008 bill.

The USDA Economic Research Service highlights some of the major changes as:

  • The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage cap is reduced to 24 million by 2017. Current enrollment has fallen to 25.6 million acres. Up to 2 million acres of grassland can be enrolled.
  • Funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is increased. The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program is repealed, although 5 percent of EQIP funds will be set aside for habitat-related practices.
  • The new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) consolidates the Wetland Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and the Farmland Protection Program. Funding is just over half of what was provided for these three programs in the 2008 Farm Act.
  • The new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is designed to coordinate conservation effort across states and programs to solve problems that must be addressed on a broader scale. RCPP consolidates functions of the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program.

Statement by Secretary Vilsack on Passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2014—Secretary Vilsack made the following statement on passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014:
Today’s action will allow the proud men and women who feed millions around the world to invest confidently in the future. Our communities will have additional support to attract new economic opportunity and create jobs. During difficult times, children, working families, seniors and people with disabilities will have access to nutritious food. The potential of new products, treatments and discoveries will be strengthened through new agricultural research. Renewed conservation efforts will protect our fields, forests and waters creating new tourism options. This legislation is important to the entire nation.

Building on the historic economic gains in rural America over the past 5 years, this bill will accomplish those goals while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. While no legislation is perfect, this bill is a strong investment in American agriculture and supports the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers.

Data acquired from USDA ERS

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Watershed Focus: Lower St. Francis

The Lower St. Francis – Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) Project is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers for addressing water quality concerns in the Lower St. Francis watershed. The project area encompasses 169,611 acres.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in partnership with the Crittenden County Conservation District has received funding for the initiative. This funding is available for landowners in portions of Crittenden, Cross and St. Francis counties.

Collaborating partners are the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture; Arkansas Natural Resources Commission; Arkansas Association of Conservation District; Cross County Conservation District; and St. Francis County Conservation District.

MRBI Map of Lower St. Francis Project

Map courtesy of NRCS

Project Goal

The goal of the project is to reduce nutrient loss from agricultural land in four adjacent 12-digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) watersheds in the Lower St. Francis Watershed by improving nutrient use efficiency and reducing runoff. Nutrient use efficiency will be gained by using variable rate fertilizer application rate technology. Reduced runoff will be gained by improved irrigation water management. Erosion control will also be accomplished by controlling runoff through land-leveling, planting cover crops and using residue and tillage management.

Conservation Practice Funding

Funding will be available to eligible landowners through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). NRCS will provide cost-share for a variety of conservation practices for the purpose of reducing the amount of nutrient runoff and soil erosion associated with agricultural production. Land and producer eligibility, adjusted gross income, and all other program criteria for participation in EQIP must be met to participate in this initiative. Agricultural lands are eligible for enrollment in the initiative.

How to Apply for MRBI

NRCS and associated conservation partners will deliver this program collaboratively. Applications may be obtained and filed with the Natural Resources Conservation Service at:
Crittenden County
FSC 1 Natural Resources Drive
Marion, AR 72364 (870) 739-
4464, ext. 3
Cross County
FSC 810 Highway 64E, Suite 13
Wynne, AR 71396 (870) 238-
3285, ext. 3
St. Francis County
Forrest City
FSC 4401 N. Washington, Suite
A Forrest City, AR 72335 (870)
633-3055, ext. 3

Approved Conservation Practices*

  • 329 Residue and Tillage Management, No Till
  • 340 Cover Crop
  • 345 Residue and Tillage Management, Mulch Till
  • 410 Grade Stabilization Structure
  • 430 Irrigation Pipeline
  • 442 Irrigation System, Sprinkler
  • 443 Irrigation System, Surface and Subsurface
  • 449 Irrigation Water Management
  • 464 Land Leveling
  • 533 Pumping Plant
  • 587 Structure for Water Control 590 Nutrient Management
  • 646 Shallow Water Development Management
    *Some restrictions may apply to some practices.


Nancy Young State Resource Conservationist (501) 301-3134

Kenneth Lee Assistant Conservationist for Programs (501) 301-3165

Dianne Schlenker Initiatives Coordinator (501) 301-3152

Adopted from NRCS

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Focus on Conservation: Conservation Cover (327)

Conservation cover is establishing and maintaining permanent perennial vegetative cover to protect soil and water resources on land retired from agricultural production or other lands needing permanent protective cover that will not be used for forage production. Conservation cover is often grown in permanent strips between cropland fields and under trees in orchards.

Conservation cover is applied to reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality, enhance wildlife habitat, improve soil quality, and for pest management. This practice only applies to lands in need of permanent vegetative cover; it does not apply to any forage or production agriculture planting.
Vegetation planted in a conservation cover practice should be adapted to soil, ecological, and climate conditions. Care should be taken to ensure that weeds have been sufficiently eliminated from the conservation cover site before panting, and that seeding rates are adequate to establish the desired vegetative cover. To help ensure successful establishment of a conservation cover site, use certified seeds, and other vegetative materials from a reliable supplier. Suggested conservation cover plants suitable for your farm, contact the local office of the Cooperative Extension Service or the local USDA NRCS field office. They can provide you with ideas for plant species, planting rates, planting methods, fertilizer and liming rates.
Conservation Cover

When apply conservation cover between crop fields or under orchard canopies choose a plant that:

  • does not grow too tall and shades out the cash crop.
  • does not twine or wrap around trees.
  • grows well under shade.
  • crowds out weeds.
  • can handle light foot traffic from animals or machinery.

Since conservation cover is considered permanent vegetation, it is often used as a means of carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is the capture and storage of carbon in a plant’s biomass (foliage, branches, trunk, roots, etc.). Through natural photosynthesis, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) becomes stored as carbon in plant biomass and soil. Since conservation cover usually consists of permanent perennial plants the carbon is removed from the atmosphere and is fixed, sequestered, in the plant and soil. The idea of removing a greenhouse gas like CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in a semi-permanent terrestrial form has garnered a lot of interest from science and industry over the past decades as more solutions of offsetting and remediating greenhouse gasses have become a more pressing issue.

If conditions for conservation cover exist, there are financial incentive programs which may cost-share the expenses of the additional requirements. Implementation of conservation cover can be worked into an EQIP application package and may complement other conservation practices such as 340-cover crops, 601-vegetative barrier, 329-residue management, 590-nutrient management, 330-contour farming for cropland, 331-contour farming for orchards, 311-alley cropping, and 422-hedgerow planting, 427-access control, 370-atmospheric resources quality management, 342-critical area planting, and 382-fence.

In summary, conservation cover is an important conservation and production practice that can be utilized in conservation programs. Conservation cover reduces sediment, nutrient, and pollution loads in run-off from agricultural production. Conservation cover also provides habitat for many different species of wildlife. Careful selection of the proper plant species, best suited for the selected site will provide the greatest benefits, filtering run-off, improving air quality, and increases species diversity. For more information contact your local County Extension Office or your local USDA Service Center.

— Lee Riley

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