USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

East National Technology Support Center 

In This Issue
Abraham Lincoln Tomatoes
Soil Health at PMCs
Fencing Made Easy
Adaptive Management
Small-scale Micro-irrigation
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Director's Column
FY2012 - 2nd Qtr

ENTSC Office

The Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI) gives us an opportunity to learn a new acronym and also provides an opportunity to better deliver conservation. CDSI will alter the way we do business and result in increased time in the field devoted to conservation planning instead of administrative tasks. This will be a significant change for many new employees and a way for seasoned employees to get back to the basics of providing one-on-one conservation assistance to producers and landowners. Getting the technology infrastructure ready for this transition and training our employees and clients on how to use it will test our technology support system - but we are up to the challenge!


The ENTSC continues to provide training and support to the states, and our webinar series continues to expand. In this issue of our newsletter we highlight key items of interest including our efforts to promote soil health and sustainability, fencing using solar power sources, and small- scale irrigation systems. We are also promoting the 150th anniversary of the United States Department of Agriculture through our efforts to grow heirloom tomatoes. Our newsletter has a new appearance and delivery system, and we welcome your comments about these changes.


We look forward to providing continued support to our customers as we strive to honor our slogan: The Science of Conservation - We Deliver!


Elvis Graves
Acting Director

Abraham Lincoln Heirloom Tomatoes 

Lincoln tomato posterWe are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the USDA by growing 'Abraham Lincoln' tomatoes at the ENTSC.  The People's Garden Initiative provided seed to employees and partners to grow as living tributes to USDA founder - Abraham Lincoln.  We are growing two plants in our small raised-bed garden at the Center, and we had 25 extra plants that employees planted in their personal gardens.  We are anxious to see who can grow the biggest tomato. Contact Ramona Garner, Plant Materials Specialist, for more information.
Soil Health at the Plant Materials Centers

NRCS has advocated the use of cover crops for many years with most of the emphasis being on erosion control benefits derived from single species cover crops such as cereal rye. Today's soil health movement is trying to shift this paradigm by promoting the use of multispecies cover crops. The concept is that above ground plant diversity leads to below ground diversity of soil biota. Encouraging a more robust soil food web provides nutrients, energy, and water cycling, allowing soil to express its full productive potential and enhanced sustainability.  


The use of cover crop mixes raises several unanswered questions for the conservation planner.  

  • What is the optimum number of species to include in a cover crop mix?  
  • How much seed should we recommend?  
  • Can cover crop mixes be used to change species diversity in soil?

To help answer these questions, Plant Materials Specialists from the National Technology Support Centers (Ramona Garner, East; Joel Douglas, Central; Jim Briggs, West) and John Englert, National Plant Materials Specialist, met with members of the National Soil Health and Sustainability Team in April to outline several research projects to be conducted at Plant Materials Centers across the country. The wide geographic distribution of these Centers, along with their technical expertise to conduct studies, provides a unique opportunity to collect data on the benefits of cover crop mixtures. The projects will focus on biomass production and soil health improvements, including assessment of root mass, species richness, infiltration, nutrient cycling, and soil organic matter. These projects will also include an assessment of biological changes in soil resulting from cover crop mixtures.


Project details are being finalized with plans to begin the studies this autumn and continue them for three to five years. Contact David Lamm, National Soil Health and Sustainability Team Leader, or Ramona Garner, Plant Materials Specialist, for more information.
cover crop mixture
Above ground diversity leads to below-ground diversity of soil biota.
Fencing Made Easy and Economical on the Islands
soilar powered, temporary fencing demonstration
Steve Woodruff (left) and Edwin Mas (right) lay out a fencing demonstration.

Farmers in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are learning about portable, temporary electric fencing powered by solar chargers. The ENTSC is assisting the Caribbean Area with demonstrations that allow goat and cattle producers to see how easy it is to move fence and livestock to improve grazing management. According to Edwin Mas, Caribbean Area Plant Materials and Grazing Lands Specialist, very few producers in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have electrical fencing options because of their remote locations.


Solar chargers and portable fencing offer these producers new opportunities for grazing management that can provide environmental and economic benefits. These include improved forage utilization and manure distribution. Forage plants benefit when overgrazing (and undergrazing) is reduced or eliminated by pasture rotation. Rest and regrowth periods allow plant roots to grow longer and deeper, which can improve soil health and water infiltration. Better distribution of manure nutrients improves nutrient cycling throughout the pasture.


The bottom line: temporary electric fencing, made possible in remote locations by using solar chargers, allows Caribbean Area farmers flexibility to adjust pasture size to better serve their needs in a cost-effective way. Contact Steve Woodruff, Agronomist, for more information. 

Adaptive Nutrient Management Supported 

Adaptive Nutrient Management provides a significant opportunity to enhance nutrient utilization efficiency and to minimize risks with nutrient application. NRCS is joining with universities, commodity and environmental non-profit groups and industry in support of adaptive nutrient management, which is defined in NRCS policy as "a process used to plan, evaluate, and adjust nutrient application strategies over time." NRCS has formed a National NRCS Adaptive Nutrient Management Workgroup to serve as an advocate of adaptive nutrient management.


According to Gene Hardee, Agronomist and Team Leader of the Adaptive Nutrient Management Workgroup, the Workgroup is striving to facilitate adoption of adaptive nutrient management by increasing awareness, providing training opportunities, and ensuring availability of financial and technical assistance for planning and implementing adaptive nutrient management strategies. The Workgroup is sponsoring a National webinar series to provide training for NRCS staff, conservation partners, and crop consultants. The Introduction to Adaptive Nutrient Management webinar replay is now available. The second webinar in the series, which will focus on On-farm Testing, airs at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, Thusday, June 7. Join Us! Contact Gene Hardee for more information.

Small-scale Micro-irrigation Systems
drip irrigation
Small-scale farmers have increased their use of

The current decade shows exceptional expansion of small-scale micro-irrigation systems, such as on one- to five-acre vegetable fields. NRCS offers a variety of financial and technical assistance options to help small-scale producers take advantage of the benefits of micro-irrigation systems towards resource conservation and enhanced rural livelihoods. Successful systems must ensure an adequate water supply, proper design, and timely water application during the season. These challenges appear to be significant in the eastern US, especially when a landowner has limited technical knowledge of irrigation and the water supply is limited. 


Robust micro-systems must be capable of satisfying the peak crop water use rate at all times, including during drought. During peak water use, most vegetables use 0.2 to 0.3 inches of water per day, with the lower rates in the cooler Northeast and higher rates in the hotter Southeast. An average peak rate of 0.25 in/day translates to a pumping rate of 4.7 gal/min/acre. Although not wise, let's assume that the system runs 24 hours, 7 days per week at a reasonable 80% irrigation efficiency. The water source must then be capable of providing 6 gal/min/acre. Obviously, if two acres are to be irrigated, then twice the rate, or 12 gal/min, is needed. Note that these values are based on pumping 24 hours per day. To irrigate a two-acre field in a typical 8-hour workday requires tripling of the water supply capacity to 36 gal/min. Further cutting the irrigation time to 2 hours per day would swell the required pumping rate to 144 gal/min. These capacities are often costly to obtain, and certainly not provided by typical water sources of house wells with capacity of 5 to 10 gal/min. One option is to zone the field into smaller areas, which increases the total time needed to irrigate the entire field. 


The take-home message is before investing in a system, ensure there is a water source that can adequately supply the quantity and quality necessary for the intended crop and acreage. To help overcome challenges with small-scale micro-irrigation planning, design, and management, contact Dr. Hamid Farahani, ENTSC Water Management Engineer.
Join Us! Webinar Calendar

Date & Topic 

05/30 - Soil Moisture-based Irrigation Scheduling

06/07 - Adaptive Nutrient Management - On-farm Testing

06/12 - Food Safety & Conservation

06/27 - Management of Manure Nutrients
07/25 - River Science for Non-engineers

08/14 - Establishing & Maintaining Habitat for Pollinators & Beneficials
08/29 - Design of Silage Leachate Collection and Treatment Systems

09/26 - Using the Leaching Index in RUSLE2 for Nutrient Management
10/09 - Organic No-Till Systems

10/31 - Tree/Shrub Suitability Groups: Matching Woody Plants to Soils
11/28 - Manure to Energy: Thermal conversion of Animal Manures & Biomass

12/11 - Community Supported Agriculture


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FY12 Qtr2 assistanceTechnical Assistance Delivery

In the second quarter of FY2012, the Center provided assistance on 107 requests, of which 76 were direct assistance to states, 14 were regional, and 17 were national activities. In addition to direct assistance to the states, the Center supported 22 training events to a combined audience of more than 3,422 participants. Assistance by state is shown in the East Region Service Area map.


Visit the Science and Technology Training Library (employee intranet) for training materials, webinar replays, and to view the NTSC webinar calendar. Contact Holli Kuykendall, Ecologist, or Anthony Burns, National Technology Specialist, for more information.

Employee News

Gene HardeeGene Hardee, Agronomist, is as busy as ever this quarter with retirement, life in South Carolina, and a new house within his reach. If you know Gene, you know he doesn't crave the spotlight (even in a casual photo!), but you would also realize that Gene's contributions to the ENTSC have been numerous and meaningful, and he will be sorely missed. Gene is a walking treasure trove of agronomic knowledge. Tune in next time when our newsletter features Gene's work on RUSLE2 and the Food Security Act, along with our farewell comments celebrating his illustrious career.