Kansas is Proving Ground for Federal Conservation Program

For more than four decades, Rod Arbuthnot has run his farm in a fashion many conservationists love.

WICHITA, Kan. — For more than four decades, Rod Arbuthnot has run his farm in a fashion many conservationists love.

He uses rotational grazing on his rangeland. Some 41 acres of native grass strips protect water quality on the streams that flow on the farm. Wildlife areas are left for deer, turkey and prairie chickens.

In the late 1990s, Arbuthnot Farms switched to no-till farming on all its cropland.

"The land is our life," he said. "We live on the land, and we make our living from the land, and we don't have a lot of outside activities away from the land. ... So we wanted to make it a nice environment for us, the wildlife and the livestock."

He is also among the first farmers in the country to get paid by the federal government for doing what, for Arbuthnot, has become standard practice.


The Washington County farmer signed a 10-year Conservation Security Program contract, which pays him to protect the environment on his working crop and grazing land. The program was signed into law by President Bush in May 2002, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not implement it until this year.

Kansas was among the first proving grounds for the program, which provides money and technical help for good stewardship practices that foster non-eroding soils, clean air and water, wildlife habitat and energy savings.

More than 300 farmers in two of the state's watersheds -- the Lower Little Blue River and the Lower Salt Fork of the Arkansas River -- signed up, receiving $2.45 million.

"It ranks up there with all the programs we had from the Dust Bowl days. ... It is the next big program that we have," said Troy Munsch, the program's manager in Kansas for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In November, the Agriculture Department expanded the number of eligible watersheds, adding six more in Kansas. Farmers are expected to be able to start signing up for the program -- and the $200 million allocated for it -- later this winter or in early spring.

An estimated 7,003 Kansas farms covering 4.3 million acres are included in the watersheds, according to the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"It is basically a system ... to provide payments to those producers who are the best stewards of land and water and grassland," said Jim French, educational coordinator for the Kansas Rural Center.

Last month's expansion brings the conservation program to every state -- encompassing 165 million acres of watersheds, according to the agency. The 208,000 farms and ranches within these watersheds cover more than 83 million acres, about the size of Missouri and Florida combined.

"This is the program of the future for farmers to get in on," Munsch said.

Source: Associated Press