People: Soil conservationist gets hands-on training in Mercer

July 12, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - The Mercer County Conservation District office will have the help of Nick Christian for the next 10 months or so while he completes some of his training to become a district conservationist.

The staff here can use the help. District Conservationist Joe Montgomery says the workload for the Natural Resources and Conservation Service has increased over recent years and more money is available through the federal government and from tobacco settlement dollars. Montgomery said Christian came to the service at a good time; jobs are opening up because of retirement of some officials and the added funding.

Christian is a soil conservationist at this point in his training and Montgomery said his boss oversees 42 Kentucky counties and not long ago there wasn't a soil conservationist in any of those counties. Christian came to Mercer County after 11 months of training in Christian County.

The two counties could hardly be more different and so the conservation practices implemented are very different, he said. To begin with, Christian County is the second largest of Kentucky's 120 counties and is 721 square miles in size, while Mercer County has a land area of 251 square miles. Most of the rolling hill farms here measure in the hundreds of acres while Christian County farms are flat and may measure in thousands of acres.


All of that is part of the training for a DC and even when his year ends here he arrived in May he probably will have at least one more location in which to train and then it's just waiting for a job to open up. He hopes it will be in western Kentucky where both his family and his wife's family live.

"I like dealing with farmers,'' Christian said when asked why he wants to work for the NRCS. "You don't get to work with individual farmers (in other agriculture jobs,)'' he said.

Here he is under Montgomery's tutelage. In Christian County, Lorin Boggs was his boss.

"I couldn't have better bosses than him and Joe,'' he said. "They've been unbelievable. Everybody has been helpful.''

Another factor may have played in his decision to work for the conservation service. His father is a soil technician in the NRCS office in Russellville in Christian's native Logan County. "I always kind of wanted to work for them,'' he said.

In Christian County, much of the conservation work is done with controlling waterways in order to cut back on erosion, while in Mercer County there is more emphasis on native grasses and wildlife. One day last week, Christian traveled to the northern part of the county with Bruce Sims, a part-time employee in the district, to inspect a field planted in native grasses.

First the farmer had to kill off the fescue that grows on many farm fields in the Bluegrass region of the state. Then he drill planted the native grass seeds. Christian and Sims went to see how much fescue and weeds were killed and how the seed was planted.

One of the reasons the workload has increased in conservation offices is the addition of cost-share programs like the one that assists farmers in planting sections of their farms to encourage wildlife.

The owner of the farm Christian and Sims visited last week was not at home but gave the men entry onto his land.

"They trust us,'' Christian said. "It's a lot of trust on both sides. Our main thing is to help the farmer.''

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