In This Issue
"Soil Health Institute"
Plant Materials & Soil Health
Small-scale Micro-Irrigation
CNMP Training
Pasture NRI
ENTSC Webinars
Assistance Highlights
Employee News
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Director's Columntop

Darren HickmanGreetings. This report covers the second quarter of the fiscal year. The East National Technology Support Center has been and will continue to be fully engaged in providing training for the Soil Health initiative. This fiscal year, we have provided approximately 40 soil health workshops, ranging from 1-day "soil health 101" workshops for states to 3-day NEDC courses. In this report, we highlight a couple of efforts that support the soil health movement along with other training being provided to the states from the Center.


Agency-wide, all of us are impacted by the Continuing Resolution, sequestration, and reduced budget support for the year. We continue to assist with the technology needs of the states, while seeking creative ways to provide support to you, our customer. Our webinars have been well received, and we're currently evaluating how we move forward with the training series; we don't want to flood the market. We plan to continue with our "priority" webinars, topics that were pre-selected and ranked by our customers for the year. We're seeing a large increase of additional topics being requested on-the-fly; we believe these discipline or regional-specific webinars will be targeted at precise audiences and announced accordingly.


Training and technical assistance to the states is our highest priority. Please feel free to contact our specialists or me with your technology and training needs and to share your ideas about how we can best serve you.


Darren Hickman, Director


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Brandt Farm becomes "Soil Health Institute"

Leadership learns about biodiversity

Dave Brandt, farmer, has established his farm in Carroll, Ohio, as the "Soil Health Institute" by hosting a second round of soil health workshops in April. These workshops focused on improving soil health by increasing soil biodiversity. Presentations on How Soil Health Changes with Cover Crops; Assessing Nutrient management in Healthy Soils; and Developing Cover Crop Mixes to Increase Biodiversity served as the foundation for participants to learn about the benefits of biodiversity to soil health. The afternoon session offered field demonstrations of cover crop termination using various roller crimper tools and cover crop seeding methods using a High-Boy Air Seeder that allows cover crops to be planted into standing corn.

directors assisting with soil health demos
Directors Rafael Guerrero, CNTSC, and Bruce Newton, WNTSC assist with soil health demonstrations.


The first day of the April workshop targeted NRCS technical leadership from around the country. Each of

the National Technology Support Center directors

(East, Central, West) were in attendance, along with

national NRCS soil health specialists and former NRCS Chief Bill Richards. This smaller group allowed for

considerable discussion to take place between the workshop presenters and participants. The day concluded with a brainstorming session to generate ideas on incorporating soil health planning principles into the fabric of our Agency.


The second day of the workshop was attended by over 280 farmers and agribusiness representatives from across the Midwest. In addition to the core soil health presentations, field demonstrations on adjusting planters and drills to work in high residue conditions and sprayer adjustments and calibrations for terminating cover crops were offered to participants. Contact David Lamm, team leader, National Soil Health and Sustainability Team, for more information.


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Plant Materials supports Soil Health with Cover Crop Study
Research, blog, and plant guides
cover crop plant guides In the spring of 2012, Plant Materials, working with the National Soil Health and Sustainability Team, developed a research study to assess cover crop systems for improving soil health to be conducted at six Plant Materials Centers (PMCs). The study, initiated in fall 2012, includes three seeding mixes at three seeding rates planted at PMCs in Maryland, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, California, and Washington. PMCs are measuring cover, species composition, soil temperature, and soil moisture  throughout the life of the cover crops. Total biomass, species composition, and bulk density data are collected when the cover crop is terminated. The Agricultural Research Service and the NRCS Soil Survey Research Laboratory are processing soil samples collected at cover crop planting and cover crop termination to track changes the various plantings have on soil health. Preliminary observations indicate little difference in percent cover between 40 and 60 seed/sq ft. The centers are just beginning to collect their data from the end of the first cover crop cycle. It will be interesting to see how the total biomass and species composition are influenced by the different seeding rates. You can follow the progress of this multi-year study from the blogs posted at the Soil Health Community on USDA Connect (employee intranet).

Looking for information on planting and managing cover crop species? Check out the plant guides developed specifically for using plants as cover crops. New guides are added frequently, so please check back soon or contact Ramona Garner, Ph.D., plant materials specialist, for more information.
Small-scale Micro-irrigation Assistance

There's nothing small about it
Micro-irrigation, an umbrella term for drip, trickle, and micro-spray irrigation systems, is practiced from California to the Carolinas. Small-scale micro-irrigation systems are generally a few acres at most. They include the smaller systems in high tunnels, gravity-fed irrigation, and community gardens. Small-scale micro-irrigation is on the rise in the East region. Small-scale producers are taking advantage of NRCS' technical and financial assistance to install micro-irrigation systems that will enhance resource conservation, food security, produce quality, and improved rural livelihoods. 


Regardless of how small the micro-irrigation system is, it must be planned, designed, installed, and maintained properly or the system will perform poorly or even fail. Unfortunately, third-party designers are less interested in small systems because of low profits. The increasing small-scale irrigation activities and the difficulty in securing proper design has become a challenge for NRCS. This challenge is magnified by the fact that most states in the eastern United States, in contrast to western states, lack irrigation engineering staff.

small-scale micro-irrigation installation
A small-scale producer and NRCS staff install a micro-irrigation system in North Carolina.


Our Center is providing micro-irrigation training to states. In one recent training activity, irrigation engineers from the East and West NTSCs joined forces to offer comprehensive hands-on design training to NRCS-North Carolina, which is dealing with more than 50 micro-irrigation projects this year. NRCS-North Carolina has been exceptionally proactive in dealing with this challenge by securing training for their staff and delivering training on NRCS micro-irrigation design criteria and requirements to producers and potential third-party designers. Their efforts have been quite fruitful in attracting a number of regional and local micro-irrigation distributors to assist producers with system design and installation.  


Shown at right is one recent installation of a small-scale micro-irrigation system on a vegetable field in Forsyth County, North Carolina. Similar NRCS success stories with small-scale assistance activities can also be observed in South Carolina and West Virginia. East states are expanding their in-house irrigation expertise, and can call on water management experts at our Center to help with training and challenges of small-scale micro-irrigation planning, design, and management. Contact Hamid Farahani, Ph.D., water management engineer, for assistance.

Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning

Training update

CNMP headquarters planning

Jeff Porter, acting team leader and environmental engineer, National Manure Management Team, is providing leadership to update the process for generating Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMP). The CNMP planning group has focused on four main areas: communication, format, training, and certification. The group's primary goal is improvement of the quality of CNMPs that are generated by Technical Service Providers and NRCS.


The group's current focus is on training. Existing training material is being evaluated and updated. Additionally, new training material is also being developed for CNMP areas not adequately addressed. The training area has been divided into four groups: conservation planning, nutrient management, production area planning, and assessment and technology development tools. Updates will be made relative to new conservation planning policy and guidance along with incorporation of NEPA requirements. Currently combined nutrient and pest management training has been split into two courses, with nutrient management receiving the focus for CNMPs. Even though production area planning has been one of the major concerns for CNMP development, previously no specific training was designated to address this portion of the plan. The Agricultural Waste Management Systems, Level 2, course is being reviewed and updated to fill this void. Some existing on-line training or "how-to" materials are available for using Manure Management Planner (MMP) and Animal Waste Management (AWM). Efforts are underway to update this training material to the current software versions.


An effort is also underway to take the CNMP training material developed at the East National Technology Support Center and make it available on-line for both NRCS and TSP use. This training provides an overview of each of the CNMP elements. Even though development of training materials is expected to take several months, preliminary material is expected to be ready by the end of May (or soon thereafter). CNMP training utilizing some of this new material is scheduled for Kentucky this spring and summer. Contact Jeff Porter for more information or to offer assistance with this project.

What is Pasture NRI?

What is collected? How is it used?
cattle on pasture in Turner County, GA

The National Resources Inventory (NRI) started being performed by our Agency when we were the Soil Conservation Service and continues in our mission as the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Two acts of Congress in the 1970's mandated our Agency start performing a NRI of the nation's soil, water, and related resources on all non-Federal lands. Prior to 2013, on pasture or grasslands, states were only required to determine for each NRI point the land use, soil (prime or not), erosion, general cover and conservation treatment needs. This was usually all done by aerial map interpretations.


A pasture pilot project began on real NRI points with a few states in 2009. However, starting in FY 2013, all states with pasture NRI points are required to perform 13 protocols or measurements at each point. Sampling all pasture NRI points by on-site observations in the states in five-year cycles will give our Agency, over time, the ability to share several things with statistical accuracy.These are: soil component verification; plant species composition; percent cover; invasive and noxious plant populations; existing resource concerns; conservation practices, needed and existing; pasture disturbances; and pasture health and condition. In the coming years, this data will provide great information about our country's pastures for improved result-oriented planning and follow-up on pasturelands, strategic allocation of programmatic resources, and answers for clients and partners regarding specific  pasture condition trends. Kevin Ogles, grazing lands specialist, provides pasture NRI assistance for our Center, and is available to assist you.   


Webinars at the Science and Technology Training Library - Your new on-line site for learning  

Be sure to visit the Science and Technology Training Library at to join our live webinar events or to catch a webinar replay. Our training library offers several different professional CEUs depending on the webinar topic, and you'll come away with a training certificate to document your attendance. Look for Science and Technology webinars under the Conservation Webinars listing in the right-side portlet. We thank Southern Regional Extension Forestry for their partnership support to make the webinar portal available to NRCS employees and the public! Contact Holli Kuykendall, Ph.D., national technology specialist, for more information. 


Recently Announced ENTSC Webinars

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Assistance Highlights
East Region service area map

Technical Assistance Delivery 

In the second quarter of FY2013, the Center provided assistance on 125 requests, of which 76 were direct assistance to states, 14 were regional, and 35 were national activities. In addition to direct assistance to the states, the Center supported 54 training events to a combined audience of more than 8,600 participants. Assistance by state is shown in the East Region NTSC service area map at right.  Contact National Technology Specialist Holli Kuykendall, Ph.D. or Anthony Burns for more information. 

Follow us on Twitter!
Follow us @USDA_NRCS_ENTSC to receive Technology Tweets. We'll let you know when we release new products, announce webinars, and know of items that may interest you.
Subscribe to ENTSC YouTube Channel 
Under Cover Farmers has surpassed 26,200 views! We also offer Winter Grazing - A Better Way to Feed (13,300 views) and select webinar replays to support NRCS initiatives. In fact, Dave Brandt's cover crops webinar (2,200 views) is available on our YouTube Channel.

Soil Health on USDA Connect
Cover crops blogs, discussion forums, file sharing, and more awaits you as a member of the Soil Health Community (USDA intranet). Visit the community to become a member.

Like us on Facebook
The ENTSC established a Facebook page recently. Seeing how Social Media attracts viewers to our webinars was a primary motivation. We're looking forward to watching this site grow.


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employee-newsEmployee News

Engineer drives into retirement

kerry robinson retires
Kerry Robinson (right) and Anthony Burns (left) celebrate the grand opening of the ENTSC in 2008. 
Kerry Robinson, Ph.D., P.E., hydraulic engineer, retired on April 19, one month shy of 35 years of federal service. Kerry came to the ENTSC from the NRCS Watershed Science Institute, and is also a former USDA-ARS scientist. For some time we thought Kerry might return to his home state of Oklahoma, but that's unclear to us now. We do know, however, that Kerry has a motorcycle and a motor home and plans to see a bit of these United States traveling from one festival to the next to enjoy friends, music, and beverage! Congratulations to Kerry Robinson for his years of service; his retirement leaves a specialty void that will be difficult to fill.

Now, what's to become of his sidekick, Mr. Burns?