As the chant of the auctioneer drifts across the warehouse floor at Ford's Tobacco Warehouse in Louisburg, W.J. Renn's eyes light up as the buyers approach his piles of tobacco. Renn has been farming almost all of his 74 years, but he has never sold a tobacco crop quite like the one he has on the floor today. WhatÕs different about this crop is that he planted it in cow pasture and he never plowed or cultivated the field, but his piles of golden leaf attest to the fact that he made a bumper crop.

Mr. Renn planted his "cow pasture" tobacco as part of a special watershed demonstration project in Franklin County that was designed to demonstrate new technologies for row crops and poultry houses to protect water quality. The DevilÕs Cradle Demonstration Project is meant to show that tobacco and cucumbers can be grown with special no-till technology that can protect the environment and provide a profitable crop as well.

Traditionally grown, clean-tilled crops expose the soil to the harmful effects of erosion. When soil leaves a field through erosion, it muddies the waters of our streams and rivers and can carry nutrients and pesticides. Renns.jpg (34347 bytes)

No-till technology can virtually eliminate erosion and has been developed for crops such as corn andsoybeans, but has yet to be fully developed for tobacco and many vegetable crops.

For two years, approximately 10% of the tobacco grown in the 30-square-mile DevilÕs Cradle Creek watershed in northern Franklin County was grown using no-till techniques. Fields were prepared in the fall and planted with rye cover crop. The following spring, tobacco was planted into the rye cover crop using a specially-designed no-till transplanter. The rye served as a mulch, and the fields were never plowed during the growing season.

While protecting the soil from erosion, the rye mulch serves to inhibit weed growth, to cool soil temperatures, and to allow rainfall and irrigation water to soak into the soil rather than run off the field.

Environmental Benefits

The environmental benefits of no-till technology are obvious: Soil erosion rates on no-till tobacco fields in the watershed have been reduced from 12 tons per acre per year to less than 1 ton. DevilÕs Cradle Creek is cleaner today than 2 years ago. Less nutrients are entering surface waters and there is less sediment in the streams after rain storms. Farmers are keeping topsoil in their fields for future crop generations, and when it does rain during the growing season, the precious rainfall stays in the field to help the crop rather than running off compacted bare soil.

While yields have been somewhat lower, so have input costs. Is no-till tobacco the answer? The jury is still out. What we do know is that progress is being made through on-going research programs at NC State University and field demonstration projects such as the one at DevilÕs Cradle. Farmers are being supplied with state-of-the-art equipment and cost share funds that allow them the flexibility to be creative and innovative with farming methods.

There are over 100,000 acres of tobacco grown in the Neuse River Basin. The technology developed, along with the knowledge acquired, from the DevilÕs Cradle watershed can be directly transferred to other tobacco farms in the Neuse Basin. Can we have clean water and productive agriculture? Ask W.J. Renn. HeÕll take you to his cow pasture, now littered with bare tobacco stalks, and heÕll tell you, Òyes sir, it was a mighty fine crop.

Editors Note: According to a recent release from the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), " for the first time ever, U.S. farmers are planting more acres using soil building and pollution fighting farming methods than traditional methods that rely on the plow or intensive tillage." John Hebblethwite, excecutive director of the CTIC says, " across the nation scientific research and practical application show that these systems not only replenish and build organic matter in the soil for improved future food productivity, but they will also protect water quality and enhance widlife  and the environment for future generations." Bill Lord's project has shown these practices are applicable to North Carolina.

Bill Lord

In April 1997, 27 scientists representing several state and federal agencies and one farm organization toured 19 riparian buffer and controlled drainage sites within the Neuse River Basin for two days.* The sites were carefully selected to be representative of soils, drainage conditions and agricultural activities present in the basin. The focus of the discussions at each site centered on appropriate best management practices that would both minimize nutrient entry from a field or pasture and still maintain agricultural production at a reasonable cost.

One of the main lessons learned from the tour was that even when fields are fertilized at appropriate agronomic rates, without other best management practices (BMPs) such as controlled drainage or riparian buffers, agricultural fields still loose nitrogen to surface waters. As a result, Selected Agricultural Best Management Practices to Control Nitrogen in the Neuse River Basin, Technical Bulletin 311, was produced to provide professional guidance on the selection andpartagnts.jpg (19232 bytes) placement of BMP systems.

The bulletin is divided into five major sections: agricultural pollutants, riparian buffers, controlled drainage, instream wetlands and physiographic regions. A brief description of the recommendations by region listed below:

Deanna Osmaond, J. Wendell Gilliam and Robert O. Evans

 lowuppeid.jpg (11120 bytes)


upper.jpg (17043 bytes)

Over the next three years, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University, Wake County, the towns of Apex, Cary, Morrisville, the city of Raleigh and private industry will be working together to address nonpoint source pollution in the Crabtree Creek, Swift Creek and Walnut Creek urban watersheds of the upper Neuse River Basin.

The objectives of the Upper Neuse River Urban Watersheds project are: 1) to monitor the relative impacts of urban, agricultural, construction and forested areas on surface water quality in three urban watersheds; 2) to install and evaluate BMPs to reduce nutrient, sediment, pathogen, and pesticide inputs from stormwater runoff and streambank erosion in these three watersheds; and 3) to educate citizens in the upper Neuse River Basin about their role in protecting water quality.

mitch.jpg (15123 bytes)The project team is monitoring several small watersheds to characterize nonpoint source pollution from various land uses. Five urban runoff BMP demonstrations will be implemented to reduce impacts from urban stormwater runoff. Stream protection will be used to reduce sediment from disturbed urban streambanks. Educational programs on turf management and ÒWaterWiseÓ landscaping will be developed and delivered to the appropriate audiences. Throughout the project, tours will be given to a variety of people to demonstrate various BMPs.

Mitch Woodward

urbanwater.jpg (6232 bytes)

The proposed Neuse River Basin Nutrient Sensitive Water Rules have asked members of both the agricultural and urban communities to adopt various measures to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the Neuse River Basin. Some of these measures or best management practices (BMPs) are well understood, but many BMPs are not widely used.

In particular, ten municipalities (Cary, Durham, Garner, Goldsboro, Havelock, Kinston, New Bern, Raleigh, Smithfield, and Wilson) and five counties (Durham, Johnston, Orange, Wake, and Wayne) in the Neuse River Basin will have to adopt various best management practices to reduce stormwater-borne nutrients from urban areas.

These practices will be mandated under the proposed Neuse River Basin Nutrient Sensitive Water rules. While some of these communities are well aware of the vast array of BMPs to use, many parties involved in the development of these communities do not understand all the urban stormwater BMPs available to them.

neuseclips.jpg (27326 bytes)
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, in cooperation with N.C. Sea Grant, will be hosting two workshops in the Neuse River Basin to educate municipal and county leaders on various stormwater BMPs. The workshops will target city/county planners and engineers, as well as private developers, planners, architects and engineers.

One workshop will be held in New Bern on June 3-4, 1998, while the second will be in Raleigh during June 16-17, 1998. The New Bern workshop will focus slightly more on coastal issues, while the Raleigh workshop will cover issues more pertinent to the Piedmont. Costs for each of the two-day workshops will be $190 and continuing education credits will be offered for professional engineers, landscape architects and planners.

Tom Schueler of the Center for Watershed Protection will be the featured speaker. Mr. Schueler is widely regarded as one of the pioneers in the development and use of urban stormwater BMPs in the Washington, DC, metro area. He will be joined by other planners, architects, engineers, and developers from both inside and outside North Carolina.

Bill Hunt

Bill Hunt can be reached via e-mail: or 919-515-6751.

Nuese Letter Index / NET Homepage