Sustainable land management lauded

AFP Correspondent

(March 1, 2015) The Nature Conservancy presents programs for landowners frequently in conjunction with the Delaware Riverkeepers, the Musconetcong Watershed Association or the Pequest-Paulinskill Watershed Association, but the group did its first program aimed at farmers on Wednesday. Jan. 28.
About 170 farmers and residents of northern New Jersey filled the conservatory at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta for a day-long forum on sustainable land management geared toward agriculture uses and municipal regulations.
Opening speaker was former New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus, a familiar figure to many of the area farmers.
Kuperus was pleased at the strong attendance, which was about 50 more than TNC was expecting in spite of a snowstorm the day before.
His address reminded farmers that they, as well as other citizens, “are obligated to leave the environment better than we found it. Our generation has to deal with what came before.”
Lamenting, “not everyone feels that way,” Kuperus said he is motivated as a Christian to an obligation as a steward of the earth. “We are all motivated for different reasons,” he said.
Preserving farming in New Jersey, between New York City and Philadelphia is essential, he said. He noted in spite of a strong movement against the last open space and farmland preservation referendum, “we prevailed.” He believes there is a “growing appreciation for doing something right.”
As a farmer, Kuperus knows the importance of an alliance with the DEP, the NCRS and other agencies that can help in case of an emergency.
Eric Olsen, director of the Delaware River and Bay Program at The Nature Conservancy, followed Kuperus as a speaker. He called for a “new era of conservation partnerships.” To the farmers, he said “I hope you will leave knowing what resources are available.”
Representing one of those resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Christine Hall. She reminded the farmers of the wealth of expertise NRCS can provide in biology, soil science, engineering and other areas, including providing some new online tools like the Web Soil Survey. Hall noted online resources can’t replace on-site surveys.
Hall said NRCS covers soil, water, air, plant, animals, humans and energy, all starting with a talk about goals and alternatives and a walk around the farm. NRCS can also keep farmers informed of new programs through the Farm Bill.
Dan Mull of the Hackettstown office talked about partnering with each Soil Conservation District for conservation on crop and livestock operations. He works with farmers to alternate crops to lower erosion and improve water quality and helps choose cover crops that not only stop erosion but also increase the fertility of the soil.
A big concern of NRCS is irrigation. The agency helps farmers reduce waste and find solutions to salt-water incursion.  Sometimes the answer is to catch water and pump it out of a pond into the system.
One solution to pollution can be creating an animal trail and walkway to keep livestock away from the irrigation water source. Another is careful winter storage of manure.
A treat for the farmers and others in attendance was a presentation by seven fourth and fifth graders from Marian G. McKeown School in Hampton Township. All of the students in the kindergarten through sixth-grade school participate in a preservation program for the Paulinskill which runs right past the school, according to Nathaniel Sajdak, watershed Director for the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority – Wallkill River Watershed Management Group. Sajdak’s children attend the school.
The school children potted more than 500 trees donated by Cerbo’s Nursery. When the trees are mature enough, the children will plant them along the riverbank. The students studied stormwater and determined one inch of rain could produce 20,000 gallons of runoff into the river from the school parking lot.
This spring, the students will plant a rain garden. They also planted trees around the pond at the Homestead, a county building.