What is in this article?:
- The Dust Bowl affected 100 million acres, centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. In December 1935, experts estimated that 850 million tons of topsoil had been blown off the Plains that year alone. The drought would linger four more years until rain finally brought relief in the fall of 1941.
Establishment of SCS
The establishment of the SCS marked the beginning of federal funding and natural resource education to landowners, especially farmers. States established state soil conservation agencies and procedures whereby local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) could be formed in counties across the U.S. SCS assistance was delivered at the direction of the local SWCD board, made up of five landowners from across the county.
The agency employees would hold workshops and in some cases go door-to-door to educate farmers on soil conservation and anti-erosion techniques, including crop rotation, strip farming, contour plowing, terracing and other beneficial farming practices. The agency provided financial incentives to help farmers offset the costs of adopting some of these practices.
Littlefield remembers the local SWCD presenting a film about soil erosion at his Wayside Grade School.
“I remember the conservation service men coming by to teach us how to put nutrients back in the soil by rotating our crops,” Littlefield says. “We planted rows of trees, a shelterbelt, to act as a windbreak for our fields. We started terracing our fields to hold the water better. It made a big difference.”
The land care lessons his family and others received in the 1930s paid off in the 1950s when another historic drought had America’s farmland in its grip.
“The SCS helped us know how to take care of our land, even in hard times,” Littlefield says. “They taught us about strip till farming and the equipment we needed to farm in better ways. I really feel like the Graham-Hoeme chisel plow saved this country from blowing completely away.”
The plow featured reversible chisel points that were used for erosion control and primary tillage. Special "low-crown" 16-inch-wide sweeps were developed for shallow weed control before planting. The sweeps left about three-quarters of the stubble covering the soil surface, reducing soil dryness and preventing wind erosion. This was one of the first tools available to perform "stubble-mulch" throughout the Great Plains.
Littlefield still owns farm land in Swisher County. As an impressionable child, experiencing first-hand the largest man-made ecological disaster our nation had ever seen made a lasting impression on Littlefield. He wanted to do everything he can to save the soil on his land. He enrolled his farmland, most of it with highly erodible soil, in the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Participating as a SWCD cooperator, he worked with the NRCS to develop a conservation plan and proper management for his CRP.
When his CRP contract expired in 2011, Littlefield immediately enrolled it in the USDA’s State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program, administered by FSA, with NRCS providing technical assistance and conservation planning advice. In the SAFE program, Littlefield relies on NRCS to help remove the existing introduced bluestem grass to prepare the acres for planting native plants to improve wildlife habitat for such threatened and endangered candidate species as the Lesser Prairie-Chicken.
“Seeing what I saw growing up as a boy on our farm, I have witnessed the positive effects over 70 years of conservation efforts have had on our land,” Littlefield says. “I am now proud to say I am a landowner that is making a difference for the environment, and in the process, I hope to be able to help the prairie chicken populations.”
Bennett, known as the Father of Conservation, perhaps said it best: “Farmers have only temporary control over their land. It can be theirs for a lifetime and no longer. The public's interest, however, goes on and on, endlessly, if nations are to endure....”