What is the Soil and Water Conservation District and what does it do?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District is one of 92 agencies that are located in Indiana. In the beginning we helped farmers with soil erosion concerns on their land to help protect the top soil.

The 1930s Great Depression was instrumental in starting this grassroots organization. Congress knew that something was needed to alleviate the huge dust storms that were created from the drought, wind, and farming practices of the time.

Hugh Hammond Bennett, credited for being the father of conservation, was speaking at Congress the day a huge dust storm blew into Washington, D.C., from the Oklahoma plains. He is said to have opened the windows as a dust cloud blew in and settled across the desks of all in attendance. As a result of his actions Congress realized a need to instill conservation thinking in farmers minds.

This new approach to farming was delegated to each state. Indiana felt the best way to accomplish the task of education on new farming principals was to organize these grass root agencies in each county. These agencies became the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD). Putnam County petitioned the state and organized its SWCD in 1946.

So that is how the SWCD got started and there have been many farmers that have adopted new conservation principals and saved tons of topsoil in Putnam County. It has also improved water quality by keeping sediment out of our streams, rivers, and other water bodies.

Farming practices have changed through the years as all things do. Equipment has become more efficient, farms have become larger as more and more people have left farming, new brands and hybrids of seed as well as herbicides and pesticides all have had their impact in the conservation arena.

We have learned a lot and continue to strive for more yields with fewer disturbances to the soil and water resources. We have grown to understand that nothing operates in a vacuum so we have incorporated whole systems to help protect not only soil and water but all natural resources.

While we have been working on this, the world has changed too. We are feeding more and more people on less land. Families are removed from the growing of their own foods and rely upon other means to provide the food they eat.

So is there a need for the SWCDs in today's world? Most definitively the answer is yes. Because we have moved to a more urban society people are striving to understand how to preserve their land no matter how large or small. People want clean water for their use not just for drinking but all recreational uses.

We may be remembered for the work we were charged with accomplishing in the 1930s but we have grown to so much more. We continue to morph as society does into new and better things. As a result, we hold workshops and field days on conservation. While it sounds like an old idea that you may have heard before, it has new innovations and topics that just weren't around in earlier times.

We also do educational presentations to all age groups. In January we visited the Greencastle Middle School to talk with seventh-grade students about soil and soil health as a culmination activity to one of their units on the study of the Earth.

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