Oklahoma www.ok.govOklahoma Conservation Commission

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Eastern Oklahoma Landowners Rewarded for Good Conservation

grass pasture
The grass pasture and chicken houses (in background) belong to Darwin and Jerri Prasaysith, participants in the Conservation Security Program.

On June 6 U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Mike Johanns’ announcement about USDA's Conservation Security Program (CSP) included news that Oklahoma had more CSP landowner contracts approved than any other state in the nation. Out of a total of 439 contracts for the state, the vast majority are in a watershed in southeast Oklahoma.
CSP will provide $2.6 million to 412 farmers and ranchers in LeFlore, Latimer, and Haskell Counties in Oklahoma this year. Subject to program funding, annual payments will be dispersed to contract participants for the next five to 10 years. These farmers and ranchers live in the Poteau River Watershed, which was recently approved as a CSP project.

CSP is a voluntary program administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “The CSP supports ongoing conservation stewardship of agricultural working lands and provides incentives for even better conservation treatment of the land,” said Kenneth Risenhoover, NRCS district conservationist at Poteau. CSP provides annual payments for ten years to farmers and ranchers. Participants enter into a 10-year contract with NRCS and will receive annual payments based upon current and planned conservation work on their land.

For the Oklahoma portion of the Poteau River Watershed, 412 CSP contracts received approval. The majority of those – 342 – will be in LeFlore County, which contains the largest part of the watershed. “One reason we had an exceptional number of people qualifying for the program is the good job our producers have done over the past 20 years to establish good conservation programs on their land,” said Risenhoover.

“The CSP will not only help farmers and ranchers continue and add to their conservation programs, but it will be a boost to the local economy,” said Virginia Kidd, LeFlore County Conservation District director and member of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “Much of the annual payments to producers will be used to buy fertilizer, seed, and fuel, fencing materials, equipment, and pay contractors to build ponds and other practices. That means many people in the area other than just the producers will benefit from the program.”

“CSP was approved by Congress in the 2002 Farm Bill and there are only six other watersheds in Oklahoma that have been approved for the program,” said Kidd. “We are very pleased that the Poteau River Watershed was selected for a project and even more pleased that so many of our farmers and ranchers qualified for the program.

Phoukham Vongkamdy, Kenneth Risenhoover with Miranda and Jerri Praysith.
(From left) Phoukham Vongkhamdy, NRCS assistant state conservationist (field operations), and Kenneth Risenhoover, district conservationist, with Miranda Prasayasith and her mother Jerri. The land belongs to Jerri and her husband Darwin Prasayasith, one of 30 Laotian-American poultry producers in CSP in the Poteau River Watershed.

Darwin and Jerri Prasayasith are among the 30 Laotian poultry producers in LeFlore County and 100 total poultry producers who qualified for the program. To be eligible for a CSP contract, producers had to have an ongoing conservation program that usually includes proper pasture or cropland management that incorporates practices like rotational grazing, ponds, erosion control structures, conservation tillage, and wildlife habitat. Poultry producers like the Prasayasiths also had to be managing their chicken litter properly, which included having litter storage facilities and a plan to insure proper distribution of the litter on their pastureland. “The Prasayasiths have done an excellent job in managing their poultry litter and their pastures,” said Risenhoover.

Gary Hoffman, CSP participant plans on using some of his CSP payments to build more fencing for rotational grazing and more ponds for water supply. Hoffman is also a poultry producer and has worked closely with NRCS for many years carrying out a conservation plan improving his land.

Gary Hoffman and Kenneth Risenhoover
CSP participant Gary Hoffman goes over his contract with NRCS District Conservationist Kenneth Risenhoover.

To participate in the program, producers completed a self-assessment of their operation to determine eligibility and then submitted an application to NRCS. NRCS determined program eligibility and the payment level producers qualified for. That level varies, depending on how many conservation practices they have completed among other factors. NRCS provides free technical assistance to producers through local conservation districts to install conservation practices and carry out conservation plans.

Other watersheds approved as CSP projects in Oklahoma this year are the Upper Beaver Creek Watershed in the panhandle and Spring Creek Watershed in the northeast part of the state. Texas and Cimarron Counties received approval for 27 contracts in the Upper Beaver Watershed. To date no contracts have been approved for the small portion of the Spring Creek Watershed that extends into northeast Oklahoma. CSP projects approved in prior years include the Lower Salt Fork River Watershed in the northern part of the state; Lower Cimarron River-Skeleton Creek Watershed in north-central part of the state; Little River Watershed in central Oklahoma, and the Lower Neosho River project in the northeastern part of the state.

Phoukham Vongkamdy, Pany Peace and Kenneth Risenhoover
NRCS employees Phoukham Vongkhamdy (left) and Kenneth Risenhoover (right) discuss CSP with landowner Pany Peace. Peace is one of 30 Laotian-American poultry producers participating in the Poteau River Watershed. There are 412 participants in total for the area.

(Photos and story by F. Dwain Phillips, Oklahoma Conservation Commission)