USDA NRCS Works To Increase Diversity

NRCS Conducts Outreach for Diversity

 

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. Elisabeth “Elise” Miller, is an area engineer for the entire Southern California region. “I also serve my agency as the NRCS-California LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager, a collateral duty that I perform on several levels to increase diversity,” said Miller.

 

“First, I work to educate employees within my agency, to make them better informed and more in tune to language,” Miller explained. “Then, I work to get a more diversified workforce within the USDA,” she added, to make the organization stronger and better.

 

Unlock the secrets in the soil diversity

“My efforts might include going to a university,” she elaborated, “trying to tie in with their resource center and encouraging more people who identify as LGBT to apply for federal jobs. Our colleges, the University of California (UC) and the California State (Cal State) University system, have a lot of really good, positive and powerful resource centers that I’m hoping will continue to help us with our outreach and pull more people in who want to work for us.”

 

“Certainly we do have human resources,” commented Miller. “And we do a lot of outreach. With California being so large and so diverse,” Miller said, “it is hard to reach out to everybody. We have to start with the big UC schools first. We also try to reach out to universities such as Fresno State, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo or Pomona or UC Davis, or Humboldt State. Those would be schools that certainly we want to outreach to and try to bring more of those graduating students in under our fold.”

 

“My agency is a very technical agency,” said Miller. “We work on conservation-type issues—resource issues that farmers, ranchers or private landowners might deal with—requiring an agronomist, biologist or soil scientist. I often go out with a multi-disciplinary team and meet with a farmer, rancher, or just a landowner.”

 

“Every farmer I meet has some kind of issue,” Miller commented, “whether it’s pest management, whether it’s dealing with manure management or an erosion issue that’s going on. If they have a hillside orchard, they have to deal with that.”

 

“And obviously they focus a lot on drought management and water conservation,” Miller explained, “A lot of these farmers of course are forced to use groundwater, which is depleting the groundwater sources and may be causing irreparable damage.

 

We work cooperatively to try to help them resolve their land issues. That’s what I like about my agency—that we’re invited there. We’re not there to push a regulation. We’re there to help them to better manage. They always maintain control of their decision making. We try to give them options available and we have cost share programs to assist them, if something is identified. We work towards developing conservation plans on the property.”

 

The agency is also responsible for the soil survey work. “We map the soils five feet deep,” said Miller, “to gather information, resource information, which has worked fantastically well for a farmer to know what kind of soil he’s dealing with. It may make a difference on how a farmer irrigates. It may be why he’s having a problem with a crop or many other areas that could be helpful to them.”

 

“We are in the community. We’re very much aware; we know who the farmers are, we know what the issues are and we work with farmers to try to address their land problems. We don’t just pop in and then pop out,” Miller said.


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRSC) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources with voluntary programs and science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. 

Mathesius is New UC Soil Scientist

Mathesius is New Agronomy Farm Advisor in Sutter-Yuba, Colusa Counties

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Konrad Mathesius is the new Agronomy farm advisor at the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension, Sutter-Yuba, Colusa Counties. Mathesius first explained his unusual last name. “It means ‘mathematics’ in Latin. I guess we had accountants in our family lineage back there somewhere,” he said.

Mathesius completed his undergrad degree in political science at Utah State, followed by two master’s degrees at UC Davis in Soils and Biogeochemistry; and in International Agricultural Development (IAD)—a graduate group within the Department of Plant Sciences. “The IAD is flexible in its curriculum, which allowed me to take many plant- and soil- specific courses. I took the opportunity at IAD to specialize in soils,” he said.

California Safflower Field
California Safflower Field

“Through the years, we have learned a lot through the pioneers of soil science and it’s an exciting field because there is still a lot to learn,” said Mathesius. “And everything that comes out of soil science, in one way or another, is applicable to life on the planet.”

“Soils also tell a story, and that’s one thing I really enjoy about it. It’s especially evident in California because there is a remarkable combination of parent material that has created an abundance of different soils in the state,” noted Mathesius. “And it’s very relevant to agriculture, ecology, and environmental science. Differences in soils create a stark contrast in how crops grow and how they need to be managed,” he said.

Mathesius is responsible for the agronomic crops grown in his region, including dry beans, oilseeds such as safflower and sunflower, fresh market corn and silage corn, and small grains such as barley, wheat, and rye.

“I’m a soil scientist by trade, but ultimately I am a UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor and available to growers to figure out what their crop issues are—which include pests, diseases and soil fertility,” noted Mathesius. “I am a resource, and the UC system has many other resources and personnel who can thoughtfully consider solutions to crop problems.”

Calif. Profs Win Irrigation E3 Leader Awards

Irrigation E3 Leader Awards Go to Two California Faculty

The Irrigation Foundation has named 15 outstanding students and faculty as winners of the 2015 Irrigation E3 Program. The Foundation selected two faculty 2015 Irrigation E3 Leaders, both in California, Florence Cassel, Fresno State and Tim Ellsworth, West Hills College Coalinga.

This year’s class of faculty and students will receive an all-expenses-paid trip next week to the Irrigation Show & Education Conference, Nov. 9 – 13, in Long Beach, Calif.

Founded in 2012, the E3 program provides students and faculty with exposure, experience and education in the irrigation industry. Academics nominate outstanding students for consideration as E3 Learners and/or apply to become E3 Leaders themselves.

To qualify to apply for Irrigation E3 Leader status, an instructor must be teaching, or will be teaching within the next six months, irrigation-related coursework at a North American community college, university or similar institution of higher learning. Prior winners may not reapply.

Chosen faculty will have the opportunity to participate in education classes, industry sessions and networking events. Working with academics is essential to the Foundation’s mission of attracting people to careers in irrigation by supplying the irrigation industry with educated professionals. Faculty members help shape the future career paths of their students and keeping instructors up-to-date on the latest and greatest in the irrigation industry is a must. 

“This is the fourth year of the program, and the Foundation is sending a record number of students to the show,” said senior foundation manager Janine Sparrowgrove. “We are excited to give the students and faculty the opportunity to attend classes and gain exposure to industry companies and technologies.”

Florence Cassel Sharma, Assistant Professor Irrigation/Water Management, Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Department of Plant Science, California State University, Fresno researches optimizing water use efficiency through low and deficit irrigation practices, improving irrigation scheduling, and utilizing remote sensing techniques for water resources management, crop water use, and soil salinity assessment. Assistant director of research of the Center for Irrigation Technology, Sharma is a recipient of the 2009 Outstanding Research and Scholarly Activity Award for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

Tim Ellsworthagriculture technology instructor at West Hills College Coalinga, researches primarily soil science with a focus on precision agriculture and nutrient management. He currently serves on the advisory board for the Canadian Biochar Consortium.

Prior to West Hills, Ellsworth was a professor and faculty director of the online master’s program for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a soil scientist with the USDA U.S. Salinity Laboratory, a visiting faculty member at the Centre for Water Research, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Western Australia in Perth and a senior scientist performing hazard assessments and hazard evaluations for the U.S. Army with regard to management of the U.S. Army Chemical Weapon Stockpile.

This year’s Irrigation E3 Learners are:

  • Samia Amiri, Oklahoma State University
  • Garrett Banks, Colorado State University
  • Colton Craig, Oklahoma State University
  • Spencer Davies, Brigham Young University
  • Daniel Greenwell, Auburn University
  • John Hawkins, Alamance Community College
  • Tsz Him Lo, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • Michelle Mbia, Prairie View A&M University
  • Ryan McBride, Brigham Young University, Idaho
  • Alan Rourke, Kansas State University
  • Daniel Selman, Brigham Young University
  • Amandeep Vashisht, Colorado State University
  • Christopher Weathers, Mira Costa College

Toro Company is the lead sponsor and the Carolina’s Irrigation Association is a supporting sponsor for this year’s program. 

Links:

Irrigation E3 Program 

Irrigation Foundation