PARTNERS

Ora Van Steyn, the new district conservationist for the Stockton Natural Resource Conservation Service office knows that following the legendary and retired Dave Simpson, is both a challenge and an honor.

“Dave was here for more than 21 years and with NRCS for more than 25 and I’m looking forward to following in his footsteps,” said Van Steyn. “I want to maintain the level of quality customer service established by Dave and keep us in the top five of the nation’s offices.”

NRCS veteran

Van Steyn is a veteran of NRCS herself, working as an intern in the Elk Grove office in the summer while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2001 and interning again in the Templeton NRCS office during the school year.

“When you spent a certain number of hours in the location, the NRCS would offer you a job there,” she said. “That happened with me but I wanted to be closer to home, Galt, and I came to work in the Stockton office as a soil conservationist in 2002.” Van Steyn graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences.

Having been at the Stockton office for ten years, Van Steyn knew the challenges the office dealt with and was therefore able to hit the ground running.

Budget

“The budget for programs remains good but the budget for personnel continues to decrease,” she said. “There is a streamlining initiative now in the organization and ongoing consolidation.”

Stockton office tops

The changes haven’t stalled the very active office that had $8 million in contracts, primarily in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and with the processing of about 200 contracts annually, the Stockton office “is definitely among the top five offices nationwide,” she said. “We believe customer service is the key element in keeping our clients – farmers – happy because if it weren’t for farmers, there would be no program.”

Issues

Van Steyn said the issues she sees as being most important to the county’s growers included water quality, both groundwater and surface; two years of monitoring if pesticides are found; and dairy waste, a situation mitigated to a great extent by the “self monitoring by the dairy industry.”

Water conservation, irrigation management including converting to drip, and air quality issues continue to be high on the list of major topics.

“I’m looking forward to the office providing more conservation planning assistance as a formal process which we didn’t have previously,” she said. “We’re also planning to hold conservation and group planning workshops this summer.”

She expects that with the volume of clients the office has, the workshops and everything else will be well organized “because they have to be if they’re to be done effectively.”

SJC farmers the best

Farmers in San Joaquin County can consult with the NRCS in dealing with regulatory pressure and “we can help them. Farmers here are more progressive and aware of what’s going on and they’re dedicated to doing what’s best for them and the environment,” she said. “We’ve been able to get special, additional funds to better serve the ag community.”

“Farmers are looking for ways the NRCS can help them in these highly regulated times and they exhibit a combination of need and awareness that helps the NRCS help them,” explained Van Steyn. “And we have a lot of smaller farms here than are found elsewhere so our funds can help more farmers.”

She said the tractor replacement program has $3 million to help farmers replace tractors as mandated by the state in order to reduce pollution.

“I think all of us here are looking forward to helping the county’s ag community,” Van Steyn said.