05/18/2012 11:05

Our country’s flag flies on South Galena Avenue at the entrance to the USDA Service Office. This building houses the staff that is the local presence of the United States Department of Agriculture supporting agriculture and conservation – putting your tax dollars to work in Stephenson County. Five days a week, staffs from three agencies cooperate to work with landowners and producers providing information, technical assistance, and oversight of program funds.

                On the west side of the building, Farm Service Agency (FSA) helps to ensure a strong safety net for America’s farmers and manages financial services. Find out more at  On the east side, the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) cooperate to provide technical assistance that supports funded programs and technical information to guide the resource conservation efforts of individual producer/landowners and local government agencies.

                The SWCD side of the USDA Service Center operates with two SWCD employees, an Administrative Coordinator and a Resource Conservationist . The SWCD works cooperatively with the NRCS that has three staff persons in the office, a District Conservationist and two Soil Conservationists. NRCS, supported by the federal government, provides the office space. The SWCD Administrative Coordinator provides office support .

                A five-member Board oversees the operation of the SWCD and is responsible for the financing of its services. Support comes from a variety of sources , including  State Conservation Funds, Stephenson County, conservation product sales, and fees for service.

                The SWCD office houses soil type information for the land in Stephenson County used to determine suitable land use according to soil type, such as erodibility, suitability for agricultural crops, and development. Soil types along with aerial photos provide maps to guide appropriate conservation for individual plots of land.

                Using soil and water conservation best management practices is voluntary.  However, a comprehensive conservation plan is required for farm land to receive financial support from USDA Farm Programs. SWCD/NRCS provide the technical assistance for these programs. Stephenson County has one of the highest workloads in Illinois. For example, applications for Environmental Quality Incentive Programs (EQIP) that include livestock must have comprehensive nutrient management plans prepared with professional technical assistance. Over two years, 39 farms have received approval to participate in the EQUP program – other applications are waiting for funding to become available.           

                Included in the work of SWCD/NRCS are field visits to verify all plans, annual visits to random tracts to determine that compliance with plans has been satisfied, coordinating well water testing, well decommissioning cost share, managing conservation product sales, planning tour events, maintaining a website and quarterly newsletters, gathering information for monthly Board Meetings, attending educational workshops, participating with supporting organizations, and general office duties.

                You support our County conservation effort with your tax dollars.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 05/16/12 (for publication on 05/19/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois)  Della can be reached at