The day had only begun to grow warm as 38 Statesboro Kiwanis Club members and their guests boarded a tour bus Thursday, and headed to the south end of Bulloch County for the 2009 Statesboro Kiwanis Farm Tour.
The group visited Hendrix Farms, located near the
intersection of Old Bowen Store and Adabelle roads, just south of Interstate 16 off U.S. 30 South; and Nellwood Farms, owned by the Cromley family, near Brooklet.
At Hendrix Farms, the group exited the bus and gathered for a presentation by Jason Mallard, irrigation specialist with the Georgia Soil and Water Commission. Mallard spoke about programs farmers can utilize to help improve and upgrade irrigation systems, including the implementation of a mobile irrigation lab that checks sprinkler efficiency and helps determine strategy to conserve soil and water.
The programs can result in "significant water savings" up to 2.5 million gallons a year, he said.
Mallard also spoke about programs that will help farmers build ponds for irrigation so they won't use ground water.
Partner Chris Connor spoke about programs designed to help farmers keep livestock out of the ponds and wetlands to prevent contamination by E. coli.
As the group left for the next stop, they drove past fields where migrant workers employed by Hendrix Farms harvested watermelons and cantaloupes. The farm produces fruits and vegetables as well as row crops, such as corn, which was being irrigated at the location where the group stopped for the presentation.
The bus headed for the Brooklet area as club members and their guests enjoyed the scenery and running commentary by Harris and club member Bobby Deal. A former county agent himself for well over 30 years, Deal organizes the club's farm tour every year. Holding with tradition, he made sure everyone who takes the tour received a watermelon to take home, and also helped facilitate a contest where one club member wins a country ham.
Passing by neat fence rows and clean, open pastures, the bus stopped under some pecan trees on Nellwood Farm, spilling its occupants outside to gather under the shade. There, Jason Gatch and Glyn Thrift, with the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, spoke about more programs farmers can use to improve grazing and water quality while conserving water and soil.
One program method is fencing animals out of wetlands, Gatch said. He and Thrift work with Hal and Chap Cromley in utilizing the Environmental Quality Incentive programs to improve the farm. Hay rings are set on gravel slabs instead of the ground, where cattle can form "wallows" that are wet, messy and erode soil. Water troughs are located on the pads as well and are easily cleaned of wasted hay and cattle manure, helping create a more healthy environment for the cattle as well as reducing erosion and soil loss.
He spoke about energy initiatives as well, including one that helps fund the switch from diesel to electric engines.
After the group returned to the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds for the weekly meeting, Harris introduced John Douglas Newton, an intern learning under him at the Bulloch County Extension office.
Harris was the program speaker for the meeting, and talked about how agriculture in Bulloch County is seeing positive things overall, predicting a record corn crop t his year. Farmers planted three times the corn this year than they did last year, anticipating a higher price and the ability to insure the crop for more value.
He also spoke of government issues, such as the possibility farmers will be paid not to plant crops, because doing so releases carbon into the air. However, that would cause energy and food prices to rise by affecting the supply of corn for ethanol, he said.
Harris answered a question about the proposed tax on farmers raising cattle, saying there will likely be a methane gas tax on large feed lots. Already, several poultry houses in Bulloch County have been forced to register with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to the possibility they may be methane gas producers, he said.