Budget Committee Supports Funding for Full-Time Soil Conservation District Tech Position

June 22, 2022
By: Dwayne Page

Should the county budget funding for a full-time technician with the DeKalb County Soil Conservation District? Yes, according to the county budget committee who voted earlier this month to include money in the 2022-23 budget for the position, but the good news is the county would not have to go it alone. The county, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service would share in funding it.

If approved by the county commission, the county would budget $38,817 including salary and benefits but would be reimbursed $21,000. The actual cost to the county would be $17,817.

Richard Hanson, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) district conservationist for DeKalb and Cannon Counties, addressed the county budget committee with this request last month.

Hanson said the technician position is needed to help the district provide more services to local farmers and landowners.

“The district has been presented with an opportunity to develop a cost shared District Technician position that would administer state and federal conservation cost share programs. The way the cost share positions usually work is that the county would create an employee position and provide at least $9,000 annually toward it. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture would give the county $9,000 annually toward the position and the NRCS would provide $12,000 annually. Additionally, the NRCS would provide the county employee daily supervision, office space, a computer, IT support, training, access to a vehicle and access to all the necessary online NRCS tools to complete state and federally funded conservation projects,” said Hanson.

“The Soil Conservation Service works with farmers and landowners to preserve the natural resources of the county through a partnership between the USDA, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the DeKalb Soil & Water Conservation District,” said Hanson. “The district and these partners administer funds that are allocated to them from the USDA, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, US Fish and Wildlife, and other agencies but we need people to do the work. This grant opportunity will provide the state with more technicians to deal with the intensifying needs of agriculture and soil erosion that we have noticed across the state and southeast in general. We need more technicians on the ground because our work is becoming more intense and harder to do,” said Hanson. “Currently DeKalb County has one district employee that is our secretary/office administrator. Through USDA and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, we would be able to receive grant money toward adding a Soil Conservation Technician in the local office,” Hanson continued.

Hanson said Soil & Water Conservation projects already bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county and adding this position would help generate even more revenue to the local economy. Hanson provided the following data for the last five years: 2017: $263,000; 2018: $309,473; 2019: $148,057; 2020: $529,115.00; and 2021: $371,422 totaling (over five years): $1,621,067.00.

“Our office brings money into the county through Tennessee Department of Agriculture, USDA, and US Fish and Wildlife grants, among other sources and all of that money brought in is spent locally and used in the community on local farms, forestry, cattle grazing, and row cropping operations among others,” said Hanson. “For 2022 the office in DeKalb County alone is to bring in $525,000 in conservation assistance programs and that is using me (Hanson) and one other person. We could be doing a lot more work for the county and our customers by adding a technician. As of right now my primary focus is USDA programs which means we leave a lot of money on the table with TDA programs. The primary goal of the technician position is to help us increase our spending through TDA programs to get more money going into the local economy by assisting more farmers and landowners. We only spend about $30-40 thousand dollars right now of TDA money. We could spend probably $150-200 thousand dollars easily if we had a technician,” said Hanson.

“We work with farmers on natural resource conservation. A lot of the work is geared toward water and soil quality improvements. We look at the health of the watershed and allocate funds to projects that might help water and soil health and agricultural operations in the water shed such as fencing cattle out of creeks, providing alternative water sources like hooking farmers up to a city water tap or drilling a well and providing them watering facilities for their animals. We also do cover cropping and offer forest help in this area. We have a degrading hardwood health problem in the state, so we work to help people with invasive species eradication, forest management plans, and anything related to natural resource protection,” said Hanson.

If the county commission decides to fund the technician position as recommended by the budget committee, that person would be considered a county employee but serve under the direction of the DeKalb County Soil Conservation District Board of Directors.