March 14, 2016
This piece is the third in a four-part series chronicling stories from farmers and ranchers who have experienced success with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The first two stories featured Miguel Otero and Cornelius Joe, ranchers from Alabama who both found success with CSP.
Stan Armstrong is the multi-generational farmer’s multi-generational farmer – he and his family have been farming and raising cattle in Lawrence County, Indiana for over 200 years!
In addition to two centuries’ worth of family farming experience, Stan now has another tool to maximize the potential of his cattle operation and preserve his land for future generations – the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). In 2015 Stan enrolled in CSP in order to obtain the financial and technical assistance he needed to implement resource conservation practices on his farm.
A History of Conservation
The Armstrong family’s long line of farmers began with Stan’s great-great grandfather, who moved to Lawrence County in 1815 to homestead and raise cattle. Five generations later, Stan and his wife Ann are managing Spring Creek Cattle Company on the same land that Stan’s forebears purchased in 1855.
“I guess you could just say it’s kind of in my blood. I love the work with the land, the cattle, and the people in the industry,” Stan said.
The Armstrongs raise Angus and Angus Simmental cross cattle on their ranch. Through good pasture management, they are able to maintain a herd of about 220 cows, heifers and bulls on their farm of 800 acres near Springville, IN.
Thanks to the support of their local USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office, farmers like Stan are utilizing working lands conservation programs like CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In fact, Stan first learned about the benefits of participating in federal working lands programs from other local farmers in his area.
In 2002, Stan enrolled in EQIP for the first time. Over a decade later, Stan had seven successful EQIP contracts under his belt. After some encouragement from his NRCS district conservationist, Evan Smith, Stan decided to apply for CSP as well.
Evan felt that Stan would be a good candidate for CSP because of his ongoing commitment to conservation farming.
“CSP is tailored to help farmers who are really doing the work of conservation. It is paying for good stewardship,” said Evan.
Stan credits much of his conservation work to the guidance of his father Dale Armstrong. While he may be the fifth generation to farm on the family land, thanks to his employment of conservation techniques, he knows he won’t be the last.
“We look forward to passing the land on to our three daughters, so the things I do now are to ensure that we have a viable farm for our kids and grandchildren in the future,” Stan said.
In fact, Stan and Ann’s daughters have followed in the footsteps of the good stewardship practiced by their parents and grandparents. Their three daughters, Amanda, Sarah, and Jennifer recently started growing hops on the farm and are eager to incorporate conservation practices and programs into their new operation Spring Creek Hops.
Support for Healthy Pastures and Herds
At Spring Creek Cattle Company, Stan and Ann are hard at work incorporating and expanding the conservation activities (known as “enhancements”) that they committed to in their CSP contract. Many of the enhancements Stan and Ann adopted are part of a pasture enhancement “bundle” (a group of interrelated enhancements), which is focused on improving the health of their animals and the plants they eat while on pasture.
As a part of their Pasture Enhancement Bundle, NRCS worked with Stan to further develop rotational grazing systems on his land. Using a rotational grazing system means that Stan rests, or doesn’t let his cattle graze on, some of his pastures so that forage can be grazed longer into the fall. By extending the time he can keep his cows feeding on pasture, Stan is able to limit the amount of hay he must produce each year. Reducing hay cutting lowers Stan’s fuel consumption, and also improves his water quality by evenly distributing manure across pastures, rather than concentrating it in hay feeding sites.
NRCS also helped Stan determine when the nutritional needs of his herd would be highest – like during pregnancy and lactation periods – and to plan for these times to coincide when forage availability is at its peak. In addition to reducing hay cutting, this practice improves animal health and limits reliance on supplemental feed.
Protecting Wildlife and Managing Nutrients
Indiana is home to several species of bats, including two endangered species – the Gray Bat and the Indiana Bat. Recognizing that the local bats in his area were not pests, but rather a critical part of a healthy ecosystem (bats eat pests and insects that can be disastrous for crops and livestock health), Stan retrofitted his water tanks so that the bats and other wildlife would be able to escape if they fell into the water while trying to drink. This way Stan’s water sources stay clean for his cattle, and also provide a dual benefit to the local ecosystem by providing an open source of water for wildlife.
Water is a critical part of Stan’s operation; Spring Creek Cattle Company was named for the creek that winds through the farm. Spring Creek, which is a part of the Indian Creek watershed, supports dozens of species of fish, birds, and other wildlife. A majority of the soils in this watershed are currently classified as highly erodible land (HEL) or potentially highly erodible land. To counter this, NRCS is actively working with local farmers like Stan to prevent erosion and runoff, improve water quality, and protect natural resources.
As part of Stan’s CSP contract he agreed to improve the method by which he applies nitrogen fertilizer to his fields. With the help of NRCS, Stan now applies at least 50 percent after the pastures have greened up and now uses nitrification inhibitors to create a slower release of nitrogen. These changes ensure the fields can best utilize the nitrogen. This prevents waste of nitrogen fertilizer, improves air quality, more effectively provides nutrients to the field, and limits runoff into Spring Creek.
Although Armstrong was already a conservation leader before enrolling in CSP, he credits his latest conservation expansion to the technical assistance he received from NRCS.
“With CSP the most important thing is educating farmers and helping them apply that knowledge to the day to day work of their farm,” said Stan. “All of this is about conservation and about [NRCS] being able to do more with farmers.”
Opportunities for Farmer-to-Farmer Education
Because of his positive experience with CSP, Stan soon plans to host cropland and pastureland tours on his farm. He wants to show other local farmers how these stewardship efforts benefitted the health of his operation and encourage them to take similar steps.
Stan first learned about conservation programs from his fellow farmers and visits to his local NRCS and Farm Service Agency offices. By providing tours on his farm, Stan hopes to create even more CSP converts by showing off the program in action.
“CSP is good for our local community,” said Stan. “One dollar spent on a local farmer through programs like CSP gets turned over and reinvested about eight times in the local community. Farmers with CSP contracts are able to buy supplies like fencing materials, water fountains, and fertilizers from local dealers, who in turn source their materials locally and hire local labor. The money keeps being reinvested over and over across southern Indiana.”
Conservation Stewardship Program Sign-up Happening Now
This year, funding has been made available to enroll an additional 10 million acres in CSP. Farmers and ranchers have until March 31 to submit the initial application. Current CSP participants who enrolled in 2012 also have until March 31 to renew their contracts for an additional five years before they expire at the end of this year.
In order to support farmers and ranchers and encourage their involvement in this important program, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released its CSP Information Alert, a step-by-step sign-up guide to the program with full enrollment details, including a complete list of all conservation activities that qualify for awards.
NSAC has also published the more detailed Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which includes enrollment guidance, key definitions, explanations of the ranking and payment system, and helpful hints for accessing the program.
Printed copies of the Farmers’ Guide can also be purchased. To inquire about ordering printed copies, email NSAC at firstname.lastname@example.org.