Indiana’s soil and water conservation districts are meeting for their annual conference this week, and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the conference. It is a situation that the organization has had before, a shortage of funds to keep local district offices open. Ray McCormick, IASWCD President, said declining state funding is putting conservation efforts in jeopardy, “The cigarette tax that has been a major source of funding for soil and water conservation districts, continues to trend downward. As it does so, it greatly jeopardizes the funds that we have to keep the doors open at the district level.” He stated that, if local district offices close, it would reduce conservation efforts in the state. He added that the people in these local offices are the ones putting conservation practices on the land and administering the programs mandated by federal legislation.
In 2012, over $350,000 was cut from funding sent to local districts. As a result, McCormick says they will be asking the state legislature for an increase in state funding to 1 million dollars, “That is not a lot to ask when you consider the kind of economic driver agriculture is — to invest a million dollars to keep the conservation infrastructure in place and roaring ahead. We have a lot of people to feed, a lot of ethanol to grow, a lot of hogs to feed — we need the land base to continue to produce good crops.” IASWCD will be pressing lawmakers hard for support as they consider the state budget in the current session of the Indiana General Assembly. Local district officials will be meeting with their lawmakers during the IASWCD legislative breakfast being held Wednesday at the conclusion of the conference.
Another uncertainty being discussed at the conference is who will be leading the conservation organizations that make up the Indiana partnership. Currently, there are key positions unfilled at ISDA, Purdue Extension, even NRCS. Until these positions are filled, the partnership cannot move forward on key conservation projects. McCormick, a Knox County farmer, is hopeful that a new ISDA director (yet to be announced) will be a strong advocate for conservation, “I hope that whoever is appointed not only wants a revved up economy but revved up conservation.”[audio:https://www.hoosieragtoday.com//wp-content/uploads//2013/01/IASWCDwrap.mp3|titles=Uncertainty Hangs Over Indiana Conservation Districts]