A federal program to prevent farm and rural pollution has won a major award for its successes. The program has been used well in high-risk Georgia areas.
Farm*A*Syst/Home*A*Syst received Vice President Gore's Hammer Award. The award goes to teams of federal employees who have helped reinvent government using principles such as putting customers first and cutting red tape.
The award cites the way the program gives farmers and rural landowners the tools they need to identify and reduce farm and household sources of pollution.
The program starts with confidential assessment forms. Rural landowners use the forms to evaluate structures and the ways they manage their homes and farms. Then they turn this knowledge into action to prevent pollution.
The Hammer Award cited the program for the way it puts pollution prevention concepts into a practical framework. The simple approach enables anyone to stop pollution risks before they become problems.
Nationally, Farm*A*Syst and Home*A*Syst are joint efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service and Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.
Georgia Farm*A*Syst is a partnership, too. The Pollution Prevention Assistance Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources works with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, UGA Extension Service, State Soil and Water Conservation Commission and USDA NRCS.
Extension scientists have piloted the Georgia program in Gwinnett County, the Gum Creek area in Crisp and Dooly counties and the Little River-Rooty Creek area in Morgan and Putnam counties.
They distributed more than 1,000 assessments. So far, more than 50 rural landowners have taken action to end pollution risks on their land.
A national survey found that Farm*A*Syst and Home*A*Syst are getting results. Within six months of completing an assessment, landowners average giving nearly $800 in time and resources to prevent pollution.
"Georgia is an excellent example of this interagency teamwork," said Gary Jackson, national director of the program. "Georgia has a vibrant program. They're very innovative in adapting the national program to fit the state's needs. They do a great job of creating awareness among farmers and rural residents so they can take action to reduce pollution risks."
Farm*A*Syst has high impact and little cost, said Mark Risse, an Extension Service engineer who runs the program in Georgia.
Showing simple, clear ways to prevent pollution prompts people to offer their efforts. The government doesn't have to offer them incentives or pay for new regulations.
"It helps present this information in a cost-effective way," Risse said. "Studies prove it gets a bigger bang for the buck."
To learn more about Farm*A*Syst or Home*A*Syst programs, contact your county extension agent. Or call the state program office at (706) 542-3086. Or visit the Farm*A*Syst Web site.
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)