Ok Conservation Commission Executive Brings Grass-Roots PerspectiveThu, 15 Jan 2015 20:04:22 CST
The new Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission has a deep family history with conservation efforts. As a farmer and rancher, Trey Lam is a second generation Oklahoma conservation district director. He has served about 15 years on his local conservation district board. He has also served as President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and was their national board representative where he has worked on both state and national conservation issues. As a grandson of the "Dust Bowl" he has heard numerous stories about the worst days of the 1930's and has lived personally through both drought and flooding.
When Mike Thralls announced his retirement from the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Lam was approached by several individuals to apply. Lam said initially he didn't have any intensions in applying because he loved his job as a farmer and rancher, but felt it was a good time. He said he had been complaining about soil and water conservation efforts and thought he needed to step up. In his first few months with the commission, Lam said he has enjoyed the opportunity in seeing conservation issues from a wider perspective.
"As I have taken on this job, I realize how many natural resource challenges there are around the state and there are a lot of different strategies for tackling those and fixing those problems," Lam said.
Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays caught up with Lam. Click or tap on the LISTEN BAR below to listen to the full conservation.
Conservation efforts got a big boost in funding this week as US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday that more than $370 million in funding will be allocated for 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This is part of USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) where state and federal funding is leveraged with private dollars to address more regional conservation concerns. This is also allowing other stakeholders such as private companies, nonprofit organizations, wildlife organizations and cities to participate. Lam said USDA expects each partner to bring funding and expertise to the table because these problems are bigger than any one entity.
One of the projects funded in Oklahoma will address healthy soil. As a farmer himself, Lam said we have realized that over the last 20 -30 years yields have increased with varieties and with new management practices but he believes the soil is not as healthy as it once was. He has seen organic matter decrease and the living nature of the soil with bacteria, fungus and living matter decline along with the presence of earthworms. Lam said we need to get back to healthy soil and this movement began with farmers experimenting with cover crops and no-till practices.
Oklahoma has been at the forefront in helping farmers have healthy soil profile. This conservation movement has been picked up at the national level and these ideas have been tested through demonstration trials, university research and now that information is being brought back to the farmers to the areas that haven't tried them. Lam said that's what he would like to see in Oklahoma by getting out across the state through conservation districts, Oklahoma State University Extension, the Natural Resource Conservation Service along with using partners in the seed, ag chemical and fertilizer business in showing individual farmers that these practices will work.
The Conservation Partnership Program will also address water quality. Lam said water quality is especially important in the eastern part of state with nonpoint source pollution. That is nutrient or animal waste runoff from rural agricultural land, such as pastures or farmland which can get into streams. He said by monitoring streams they are able to identify conservation practices to abate the situation through the use of cover crops, no-till farming, and rotational grazing. This can also include fencing off streams or limiting water access of livestock to improve water quality. Lam said they have shown that voluntarily farmers and ranchers can clean up streams and the lakes downstream without any government regulations.
"It's not a mandate from the federal or even from the state government," Lam said. "These are local people deciding what they want they want to do, using technical expertise from the federal and state level along with some incentive dollars to get started and then they put those practices into effect themselves."
In his role as the new Executive Director, Lam said he would like to see the Oklahoma Conservation Commission get back to old-fashioned conservation he calls "conservation for the right reasons". He said in the early years of the soil and water conservation movement, farmers would try practices on their own farms and their neighbor's farms with the help from the government and universities and then would show others. He said that's how people learn and he would like to get back to in doing demonstrations, showing how these conservation practices work and doing it not because of a government payment, but rather because it's the right thing to do.
Lam will be my guest on the In the Field TV segment that is seen Saturday mornings on KWTV, News9 at 6:40 AM.
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