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Perdue honors farmers' environmental stewardship

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Jimmy Petty stood tall, his clear, bright eyes surveying the farm. Years of knowing the land and his family's stake in it were drawn deep into the character of his face. Almost a century of the Pettys' history is tilled into this soil.

"We work hard to be better stewards of this land for our grandchildren," he said of his family's toil on the 6,000-acre farm straddling the Georgia-Tennessee line near Chatsworth, Ga. "We hope to leave it in even better shape for them."

Gov. Sonny Perdue acknowledged the success of the family's labors on March 21, and presented them the first Governor's Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Award at the kickoff ceremony for National Agriculture Week in Atlanta.

Petty's brother Jerry and his wife Phenna accepted the award.

A century of conservation

The Petty farm has been in the family since 1915. Three brothers (Jimmy, Don and Jerry) and their four sons now farm it. They run a dairy and grow corn, soybeans and cover crops of wheat.

Perdue recognized the Pettys for not only using sound conservation methods in their farming but also for creating a stream buffer to protect the Conasauga River, which runs through their land.

"Get this," Perdue said during the award ceremony. "They not only created a buffer to protect the river on their land, but the river water is actually cleaner when it leaves their farm than when it entered."

Regional winners

The new award is sponsored by the Governor's Agriculture Advisory Commission. It was developed to recognize farmers in five state regions who use conservation and best management practices that protect and conserve natural resources in their day-to-day operations.

Regional winners include Dick Phillips of Hartwell; Glen, John and R.W. Walters of Barnesville; Bob Rawlins of Rebecca; and Kenneth Durrence of Claxton.

"I always say that farmers were the original conservation stewards of the land," Perdue said.

Protecting the river

"We consider it huge when a farmer creates a ... stream buffer (1,000 feet long)," said Cindy Askew, a district conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "The Pettys have created a stream buffer that stretches 15 miles."

The family has created a 35-foot forested buffer and a 30-foot green buffer. And they're planning to add more.

"All this was done out of a love for the land before there were even any incentives in place," Askew said. "Any new lands they add will come under the incentives program. But they've done it without incentives because they saw the benefits."

Additional benefits

Creating a stream buffer takes part of a farmer's land out of production. But the Pettys have found it to be worth the loss. Since they began their conservation reserve along the river, they've seen more wildlife on their farm.

"We began to see more quail," Petty said. "But we also brought some in to help repopulate the quail." They've seen more bobcats and bears, too.

A five-member selection committee, representing each of the regions, selected a winning farmer from each region. They then toured each of the regional winners' farms and selected the state winner based on the tours and interviews.

"We're proud to see the Petty family recognized for the outstanding work they've done over the years in Murray County," said Louis Dykes, the UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator in Murray County.

Dykes said he nominated the Pettys "because of the strong reputation they have in this region for their conservation practices."

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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