Engaging in the conservation conversation
Conservation is at the forefront of many agricultural conversations from the dinner table to D.C., and now farmers and ranchers have a new resource at MFA to help lead those discussions.
On Dec. 1, Matt Hill began his new job as MFA Incorporated’s first-ever natural resources conservation specialist—a position established through a partnership among MFA, the Missouri Department of Conservation and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“Conservation is very important to our producers, therefore it’s important to MFA,” Jason Weirich, MFA director of agronomy, said. “The ultimate goal by establishing this position is to increase conservation and look at ways to have a greater impact on stewardship. Matt will be working with our partnering organizations and growers to find programs and cost-share money that helps with soil, water, nutrient and wildlife management.”
Through this partnership, Hill will provide MDC and NRCS feedback on their programs and how they work for producers. This one-of-a-kind role suits Hill perfectly, who spent the last 14 years managing 45,000 acres of public land for MDC.
“There are a lot of programs available through MDC and NRCS that offer financial assistance,” Hill said. “Most farmers and ranchers are already doing things voluntarily because they know it’s the right thing to do for the environment and for the sustainability of their operation. But there may be money available to help offset some of the costs. I just hope to shed some light on some of those opportunities.”
According to Brent Vandeloecht, MDC agriculture liaison, this position and partnership is a first in Missouri.
“As far as I know, this position marks the first time the state and federal agencies have partnered with private enterprise,” Vandeloecht said. “MFA is a natural choice because it is a leader and trusted entity by many row-crop and cattle producers across Missouri. The hope is that MFA, the agencies and the producers can all benefit by increased communications and learning more about balancing conservation and profitability.”
Missouri State Conservationist J.R. Flores agreed that this partnership will increase the availability of technical knowledge and assistance for Missouri farmers and ranchers.
“No better place exists for conservation opportunities than in Missouri,” Flores said. “This position is exciting because we’ll be increasing the awareness of those opportunities and, more importantly, how conservation practices can translate to benefits in natural resources, such as soil, water, plants and animals.”
A native of Bowling Green, Mo., Hill said he spent summers on his family’s farm, both working and enjoying outdoor pastimes such as hunting and fishing. He is a 2003 graduate of the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he specialized in fisheries and wildlife management. Soon after, he landed a position in the wildlife division of MDC.
“Some public land management areas in the state still have a high percentage of native tallgrass prairies,” Hill said. “A large part of our work focused on managing these special conservation areas that contain populations of prairie insects and grassland birds that are declining worldwide. There are a lot of landowners who are conservation-minded and have a real interest in managing their property in such a way for it to still remain productive and profitable but also provide wildlife habitat.”
Likewise, Weirich said, when looking at a cost-per-acre breakdown, implementing conservation practices and taking advantage of cost-share initiatives make sense on low-yielding or otherwise unusable acreage.
“In the near future, we’ll be looking at a cost analysis on a per-acre basis,” he said. “If there are areas of a field that are continually losing money, then we should consider programs or practices that can help producers maximize profitability while implementing common-sense conservation.”
Hill and his wife, Lori, have two sons, Carson, 8, and Blake, 5.
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