Yuma Ag & You – Soil Conservation

by Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott     July 19, 2015

“Poor land makes poor people/ Productive land makes prosperous people.”

All over the world people are becoming more and more aware of the importance of keeping their agricultural land permanently productive. They are coming to realize that productive land is the source of human sustenance and security-that it is basic to the welfare of people everywhere at all times.

Essential foods, vegetable oils and fats, leather, fibers required for clothing and cordage, forage for livestock-these are indispensable products, and for our supply of them we are dependent entirely or largely on the soil. In order to keep the land productive, a good conservation program is imperative. Soil and water conservation is the basis of such a program and also helps to improve land impoverished by erosion and overuse, making it more productive so it can support more people.

For effective conservation of soil and water, we must treat and use the various kinds of soil according to their capability and need. During the early development of the country, there was little or no concern about the seemingly vast natural resources. By the early 1900’s, our practice of mining the soil became alarming. Erosion and soil depletion was taking vast acreages of farmland out of production in the eastern and southern part of the United States. The wealthy cotton plantations of the South were deteriorating to lands of poverty. Gully erosion was destroying the sloping land of the East and Southeast and whole farms were being abandoned. This loss was accelerated by the dust storms that created the great “Dust Bowl” of the Great Plains region in the mid 1930’s. Millions of acres of good productive soil were eroded away and made unproductive because of mismanagement. During the turbulent 1930’s, no event did more to emphasize the severity of the erosion crisis in the country than the Dust Bowl. A large dust storm on May 11, 1934 swept fine soil particles over Washington, D.C. and 300 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. A vocal advocate for soil conservation, Hugh Hammond Bennett was employed by the USDA Bureau of Soils. He observed how soil and erosion by water and wind reduced the ability of the land to sustain agricultural productivity and to support rural communities who depended on it for their livelihoods. He launched a public crusade of writing and speaking about the soil erosion crisis. In 1928 he convinced Congress to create the first federal soil erosion experiment stations.

On March 21, 1935 dust clouds once again covered Washington. Congress was in session for hearings on the proposed soil conservation law and Bennett seized the opportunity to explain the cause of the storms and offer a solution. The result was the creation of a permanent soil conservation agency, the Soil Conservation Service. To be successful, the farmers and ranchers needed to be involved so in 1937, President Roosevelt wrote the governors of all the states recommending legislation that would allow local landowners to form soil conservation districts. District enabling legislation was passed in every state and today the country is blanketed by nearly 3,000 conservation districts.

There are three Conservation Districts in Yuma County. The Wellton-Mohawk Valley Natural Resource Conservation District (NRCD) was organized in 1950. It extends up the Gila River from Highway 95 at Dome to the Maricopa line. The Yuma NRCD was organized in 1952. It covers all of the irrigable land on the Yuma Mesa. The Laguna NRCD was organized in 1954 and includes North Gila Valley, South Gila Valley and Yuma Valley.

Each Conservation District has a board of supervisors, both elected and appointed and it is their responsibility to identify local resources concerns whether they concern water, soil, plants animals or air. These are voluntary positions and the supervisor must reside in the district they serve. Conservation Districts are legal subdivisions of State Government under the State Land Department.

To participate as a District Supervisor, it is not necessary to be a farmer or directly involved in agribusiness. What is needed is a desire to promote the wise use and management of all the natural resources in Yuma County. Districts are active in consultations with state and federal agencies on issues facing our area including air quality, location of utility corridors and input on resource plans of local, county, state and federal agencies. In addition to the above activities, Conservation Districts are active in conservation education operate the Yuma Conservation Garden.

Conservation Districts are not directed by any state or federal agency, but the Natural Resources Conservation Service assists farmers within the Districts with engineering, soils information, water management and other conservation programs. It is the people within the district who make the decisions and carry out the plans. This is democracy at its best!

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott is a soil and water conservationist. She can be reached at rjsm09@msn.com.