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Conservation pays off for Bennett

RICH SQUARE – Gene Bennett’s conservation practices are paying off.

The Conservation Security Program (CSP) held a celebration last Wednesday at Bennett’s Northampton County farm to thank him and North Carolina farmers for their commitment to protecting the environment.

2005 is the first year for the Conservation Security Program in North Carolina and according to CSP officials, the response to the program has been excellent. More than 170 farmers have been enrolled in the program and will receive over $1.75 million annually as program participants.

CSP, a United States Department of Agriculture program, is an entirely new approach to conservation. The program rewards farmers for the good conservation work they have been doing and encourages them to go even further by making enhancements.

&uot;Thanks to all of you for joining us today for the signing of our first Conservation Security Program,&uot; said Mary Combs, State Conservationist for the CSP. &uot;Gene Bennett and his two brothers, Steve and Henry, have an operation that typifies outstanding conservation practices farmers are using to protect and improve the environment.&uot;

&uot;The CSP is a new approach to conservation,&uot; Combs continued. &uot;The CSP rewards farmers for past accomplishments in natural resource conservation. The CSP is implemented on a watershed basis, following the theory of rewarding the best while motivating the rest.&uot;

&uot;This program is different because it provides payments on an immediate basis,&uot; Combs added.

The three watersheds selected in North Carolina for the first year in the CSP are the lower Roanoke, the Upper Cape Fear, and the Black.

Over 500 farmers requested information on the program during the sign up period, which took place from March 28 through May 27.

&uot;The program is designed to make payments based on tier enrollments,&uot; Combs said.

Tier one addresses soil and water quality concerns on as little as one field, Tier two addresses soil and water quality concerns plus one additional resource concern on the entire farm and Tier three addresses all resource concerns on the entire farm.

&uot;So thanks to Gene Bennett, we are signing today a Tier Three contract for this operation which exemplifies the best in natural resource stewardship,&uot; Combs continued. &uot;I personally want to thank our District Conservationist Tony Short for his personal commitment to making this program a success here.&uot;

&uot;The payment program will motivate other farmers to become involved,&uot; said Short, District Conservationist for Northampton County.

&uot;I work for some really good people,&uot; Short continued. &uot;When we heard about this (Conservation Security Program) back in January we couldn’t believe it was real. They (USDA) will make a payment by the end of the fiscal year, September 30. It is a totally different take on conservation and you get compensated for doing good things.&uot;

There were 34 applicants in Northampton County.

Basics practices farmers have to do to qualify for the program is nutrient management and pesticide management. Conservation tillage or no tillage allows you to score very well in the program.

&uot;We started doing conservation tillage long ago,&uot; Gene Bennett said.

Farmers must already be doing some conservation practices to get into the program, but farmers can actually begin conservation practices on some fields to get in at a lower level and move up to higher levels and higher payments.

&uot;Natural borders are a way to take out marginal parts of a field and use them for wildlife and get paid,&uot; Short said. &uot;You allow the edge to grow into natural weeds and vegetation and do not mow this edge.&uot;

Compensation includes a bonus of $100 per acre for signing up and an estimated about $60 – $70 for each acre included in the program per year. The length of the contract is 10 years.

&uot;We took non-productive cotton and soybean fields and converted them to productive conservation lands,&uot; Bennett said. &uot;The compensation was well worth the effort.&uot;

&uot;We also converted some of our land to native grasses and we are seeing a lot of songbirds that we didn’t expect to see,&uot; Bennett added.

The Chowan river basin will eventually be added to the program.

Other officials attending the ceremony included Bill Stephenson, Chairman of the Northampton County Conservation District, and Bill Harrell, Assistant Conservationist for Field Operations, Natural Resources Conservation Service.