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Related: Partnership completes Neuse demonstration picture

The Neuse RiverThe fish kills that dominated the news earlier this decade were not the only events plaguing the Neuse River. The accompanying headlines seemed to emphasize problems rather than solutions, and tension developed among people who live and work along the Neuse. Yet, from this turmoil emerged an opportunity for responsive action with the creation of the Neuse Education Team — an innovative effort of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Now in its second year, this team of Extension educators, along with their research colleagues, is making progress in developing educational programs to help citizens protect water quality in one of North Carolina’s most important and troubled river basins. The team, consisting of five county agents and five on-campus specialists, focuses on both urban and rural water quality issues. The team came to fruition as part of a 1996 legislative funding package that focused on improving water quality in the Neuse River Basin.

“Of all the things we started in 1996 to help the Neuse River, I think the Neuse Education Team has been one of the most successful,” says Beverly Perdue, North Carolina senator from Craven County. In 1996, Sen. Perdue chaired the Senate Select Committee on River Water Quality and Fish Kills.

“What makes this team unique is the combined expertise all team members bring to the table,” says Mitch Woodward, Wake County environmental agent and coordinator of the Neuse Education Team.

Collectively, this team’s educational arsenal includes expertise in livestock, crop, soils and urban and public policy, as they relate to water quality. There is even an engineer on board to better facilitate education about urban storm water pollution control.

“Our Neuse Education Team represents Extension at its finest,” says Dr. Jon Ort, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. “I am grateful to the legislature for funding this important program that has had such a positive impact on educating people about important environmental issues that impact the future of North Carolina.”

A tailored approach to water-quality education

1998's Neuse Conference brought together the agricultural and scientific communities.The team uses educational forums as well as one-on-one interaction with local residents to deliver its water quality message. Team members seek out ways to tailor their educational efforts to maximize learning. For example, for the past two years, the team has hosted the Neuse Conference on water quality, in New Bern. The first conference was a general one, with legislators, concerned citizens and representatives of various state organizations attending the two-day event.

In the second year, however, the team focused the conference on agricultural practices that improve water quality. This sharper focus yielded a much more technical conference for a more science-oriented audience.

“Both conference audiences were important,” says Woodward. “We chose to tailor to the agricultural community with the second conference because we knew the Neuse rules [regulations associated with a state-mandated cleanup of the Neuse] had been passed and that many perceived the rules as a major threat to their livelihood. We wanted to show them workable solutions and to combat misinformation.”

Fostering partnerships to get the job done

While encouraged by the results of the team’s efforts so far, Woodward realizes the enormity of its task. “This team cannot do everything — and we’re not kidding ourselves,” he says.

Trying to show more than 1.5 million people how they can positively impact the Neuse does require a unique team, he adds, “but no team is an island. We must continue working with county Extension faculty and others to get the job done.”

An island they are not.

As Marion Smith, executive director of the Neuse River Foundation, notes, “The Neuse Education Team has proven itself a strong partner to a wide variety of interest groups who are working to improve water quality in the Neuse River.”

The rain garden filters runoff before it can reach the Neuse.That partnership is taking place from the Research Triangle to New Bern, as the team shows citizens how they impact water quality. For example, the team is working with the city government of Kinston to showcase an innovative water management practice known as a rain garden. A rain garden uses vegetation to treat storm water and helps cleaner water reach the Neuse River.

Researchers have identified nitrogen as a major cause of Neuse River pollution, and the rain garden filters nitrogen in two ways: Rain runoff, instead of flowing over the land, is contained and soaks into the ground in a rain garden where vegetation takes up some of the nitrogen. Water not taken up by the vegetation flows through the ground, rather than over the surface.

This allows nitrogen to flow through the buffer zone along the Neuse, where more cleaning occurs.

“This rain garden will demonstrate to other cities what they can do to comply with the storm water provision of the Neuse rules,” says Bill Hunt, the urban storm water specialist on the team.

Hunt says the garden’s potential water quality impact could be great and thinks city engineers, planners and elected officials along the Neuse can learn a great deal from the Kinston site.

Focusing on farms

The Neuse Education Team also works closely with the agricultural community in the Neuse River Basin. In 1998, for example, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund provided $329,520 to establish a project called Demonstrating Nitrogen-Reducing Agricultural Best Management Practice Systems in the Neuse River Basin. The project establishes four demonstration farms throughout the Neuse River Basin. One straddles the Wake/Franklin county line, and the others are in Wayne, Lenoir and Craven counties.

“This project is important to us in educating farmers and agribusiness about site-specific best management practices [BMPs] that will reduce nitrogen loading from their fields,” says David Hardy, Neuse Team area agent located in Craven County.

Mitch Woodward quoteTo help growers understand how compliance with the Neuse rules can be achieved, the four demonstration farms will showcase agricultural BMPs that producers will be implementing under the Neuse rules: nutrient management, controlled drainage and riparian buffers.

Neuse Team agent Bill Lord in Franklin County emphasizes the potential power of these demonstration farms.

“These farms bring practices to local farmers, giving them a firsthand look at the BMPs on land and under cultural practices [crop rotations, land preparation and tillage],” he says. “If local growers see these practices work, adoption will take place.”

The team uses field days to reach young people.And, as Hardy indicates, the work of this project reaches beyond the farm. It is a great opportunity to educate people outside of agriculture.

“We can also educate the general public and the legislature as to what agriculture is doing,” he says. “[The legislature] needs to know that cost-share dollars are vital to helping agriculture do what they have requested.”

Editor's note: If you are interested in learning more about the Neuse Education Team and its projects through the NeuseLetter, a quarterly publication the team produces, contact Mitch Woodward at 919.250.1112 or

Partnership completes Neuse demonstration picture

The Neuse Crop Management Project was launched earlier this year as a way to educate farmers in the Neuse River Basin about nitrogen and herbicide management. The three-year, $867,000 initiative is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The project augments the Neuse Education Team’s work on the four Neuse River Basin demonstration farms funded by the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

“We needed additional resources to utilize our demonstration farms and to implement in-field training, conduct economic analyses of the best management practices [BMPs] and evaluate producer acceptance of the BMPs,” says Dr. Deanna Osmond, project manager and Neuse Education Team member. “The Neuse Crop Management Project gives us the resources — both financial and people — to implement a more effective education and outreach program for the agricultural community.”

The Neuse Crop Management project will focus on helping farmers reduce costs and decrease nitrogen reaching the Neuse River. The project will seek to balance water quality improvements with economic viability, according to David Hardy of the Neuse Education Team.

“In this project there is a great need to evaluate the economics — the bottom line,” Hardy says. “The BMPs we are promoting should prove to be agronomically sound, lessen environmental impacts from farming and improve the farmers’ net profit.”

Jim Parrott's farm serves as a BMP demonstration site.Specifically, adds Osmond, “this project is aimed at demonstrating best management practices that have a sound scientific and economic basis. The primary crops targeted for herbicide and fertilizer treatments are corn, cotton, wheat and soybeans, which account for 84 percent of planted acres in the Neuse River Basin.”

The Neuse Crop Management Project is focused on producing results at the field level. Evaluation of the project’s efforts will be based on how well the practices are accepted and used by the region’s growers.

“This project provides an opportunity for ground-up leadership in implementing solutions to regional problems,” says Jim Parrott, a Neuse River Basin farmer. “I truly hope that through the targeted and more efficient use of nutrients and herbicides we will be able to save money while at the same time improve the water quality in the Neuse.”

The project is a cooperative venture involving growers, agribusiness, state government agencies and North Carolina State University.

The partners include Corn Growers Association of North Carolina, Cotton Incorporated, Dixie, National Cotton Council, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, North Carolina Plant Food Association, North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association, North Carolina Soybean Growers Association, Royster-Clark Inc. and Southern States Cooperative.