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Farmers speak out in support of Soil and Water District

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Despite its recent travails, the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District is an indispensable resource, local farmers say.

The finances of the district and its related agencies, including the county forestry department and trails coordinator, are now in dire straits, with a combined projected $27,000 deficit for the year, and the state has frozen grant money until an independent audit is completed.

That audit is scheduled to begin next month, according to Jefferson County Legislator John D. Peck, who also sits on the district’s board of directors.

Meanwhile, the farm community is squarely in the district’s corner.

Terese E. Bibbins, who operates an 860-cow dairy farm on 1,500 acres near Ellisburg, said the work the district does is “extremely important.”

Mrs. Bibbins said that the district has been very instrumental in ensuring compliance with state and federal regulations governing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and that staffers “are very responsive if we have problems, investigate things for us, and negotiate neighbor concerns.”

Referring to the district’s new executive director, Christine M. Watkins, Mrs. Bibbins said, “Without working with Chris, we would have a whole lot more frustration than we have now.”

If the district went away, it would have a “huge impact” Mrs. Bibbins said.

“Soil and Water has always been extremely helpful,” Douglas W. Shelmidine said. “They are an integral part of the agricultural community here in Jefferson County.”

Mr. Shelmidine operates a 1,500 acre, 720-cow dairy farm near Belleville on land that has been in his family for generations, and calls the Soil and Water District “the one stable factor dealing with environmental issues in the county.”

He said other state and federal organizations have adopted a more regulatory role as they have cut back on staffing and become “more of a policeman than a problem-solver.”

Mr. Shelmidine said that on a day-to-day basis, the Soil and Water District has been an “advocator, educator and problem-solver.”

“I can’t emphasize enough how strong a supporter I am and how critical they are to the agricultural community here,” he said.

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