Wednesday, February 3, 2010


WARNING! A Smokey "self indulgent pontification!"
The USDA is a large, unwieldy, bureaucratic, political devil, but,"it's" local public servants can be down right Angels.

I frequently complain about and criticize the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is a politicized, bureaucratic, and often serpentine mess. Yes, the Washington based political wonks that manage this behemoth are often nothing short of idiots. But, I would like for us to take a step back, look out the window, far beyond the carpet lined office, and tell you about the oft forgotten men and women who work for the various agencies and departments of the USDA.

You see, once upon a time, the USDA was not only a proponent of the farm, but a valued source for methodology, economics, and stewardship. The "County Agent" was a member of the community, valued for his or her knowledge, ready to provide advice and education on planting, water resource
management, production, conservation or any manner of innumerable subjects. In recent times, they
have faded from the conscious of many. The bureaucratic "red tape", political wheeling, and, to some degree, the USDA's loss of mission has cast a pall that sometimes casts a shadow on these agents. AND too often, they themselves are ignored or forgotten by "the parent".

I recently attended a major national event by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI). The theme of the conference was "To heighten awareness of the economic and environmental effects of grazing lands". I went to this event with quite a bit of skepticism because the main sponsors were the various departments of the USDA and from the Department of the Interior (DOI). "Probably a grand propaganda event" I was thinking. Boy was I wrong!

The GLCI event was four action packed days of learning sessions, break out groups, and totally geared toward sustainable livestock management. Most of the speakers were the aforementioned "County Agents" and do they know "their stuff". I came away impressed with not only their scientific knowledge, but also with the depth of their "on the ground" experience. As the old saying goes: "they all had dirty fingernails". There was not a single policy or political wonk to be found. In fact, most of the attendees were equally divided between these government employees and individual ranchers like myself. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in attendance had one goal in mind, sustainability. (Ok, enough of the conference stuff...visit the GLCI site if you want to learn more.)

My real point is as follows. In getting our family ranch re-started I have pestered and cajoled my local USDA agents mercilessly. In every instance, they have responded professionally, timely, and courteously. In fact they have "bent over backwards" to help, provide assistance, or get the information I needed. Representatives of the NRCS, SRM, and ARS have not only provided information, but have personally visited the ranch to inspect and gather help ME. These men and women have taken soil and water samples, surveyed and measured, and provided detailed recommendations. They then call regularly to see how things are going or if I have any new issues. Whenever we have had a success, they were right there celebrating with me and when things haven't gone as planned, they said "let me make some calls and I will get back to you with a possible solution"...and they did. For all of this I have paid...NOTHING!(if you don't count my income taxes):)

I thought I was just lucky that my county had some out of the ordinary USDA folks. The GLCI conference opened my eyes. I quickly learned that no matter where you are from, these "boots on the ground" professionals all have the same help and serve the individual

So, while I do not trust or respect the USDA as policy friendly toward the "little guy", I do trust my local County Agents. When it comes to actually caring about the success of the local farmer or rancher, these men and women are absolute ANGELS.

More Info:
"HOPE on the RANGE Video
By SRM (Society for Range Management)

Photos courtesy of NRCS

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