UAPB alumna helps farmers care for their land in career with USDA-NRCS

Will Hehemann School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

kaseytaylor2Kasey L. Taylor, alumna of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, says some of the most important insights she gained as a student of the UAPB Department of Agriculture mirror some of the things her grandfather, a farmer with land in Alabama, used to stress to his family. Above all, he emphasized caring for farmland through an understanding of sustainable land management practices, and urged his family to always continue their agricultural legacy.

Taylor, an Illinois native, credits her grandfather’s inspiration and the instruction she received at UAPB, for helping her forge a rewarding, 21-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Now, as state conservationist for Delaware, she enjoys helping other landowners make important decisions about their farmland.

Taylor’s journey to her current position began when she decided to break family tradition by attending UAPB, an 1890 land-grant university in the Mississippi River Delta, rather than University of Illinois, where her brother and aunt attended.

“We had some family friends who were die-hard fans of Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal (AM&N) College, so I always knew I wanted to attend an 1890 university,” Taylor said. “I had a great Golden Ambassador and when I actually visited the campus, I fell in love.”

As she worked towards earning her bachelor’s degree in animal sciences, Taylor was awarded a student internship with the USDA Cooperative Education Program in Kansas, and later in Arkansas. After she graduated, she was hired as a NRCS soil conservationist.

Taylor said the practical training and exposure she gained working with landowners in Lafayette, Columbia, Sebastian, Crawford and Scott Counties eventually led to great opportunities. She was appointed district conservationist for the NRCS field office in Batesville and later in Mississippi and Phillips Counties.

“With all the experience I gained working in the great state of Arkansas, it really became my home away from home,” Taylor said.

In 2003, Taylor was selected as the assistant state conservationist for field operations in Minnesota, where she worked for ten years. In 2013, she was selected as the state conservationist for Delaware. In this position, she is responsible for providing overall direction of NRCS personnel, the implementation of conservation programs and activities consistent with the Farm Bill and the equitable, timely delivery of technical assistance.

Among Taylor’s most recent achievements was receiving an outstanding performance award in 2015. She was also selected to serve on several committees, including the NRCS Chief’s Advisory Committee, the National Conservation Planning Steering Committee and the North East Region Representative on the National Employee Development Board.

Taylor said she is blessed to work with incredible partners, landowners who are innovators and pioneers. Being a good advocate for a landowner means knowing how to do it right.

“A lot of times, landowners may be looking to implement a single conservation practice tied to a specific resource concern that has been identified,” she said. “However, there may be ongoing needs that could be assessed through a detailed resource inventory, which can be treated through a prescribed conservation plan. We lay out a full plan for their land, beginning to end, so they get an overall understanding of what they can implement to improve their operations and provide long term sustainability.”

Taylor said local NRCS conservationists work in partnership with the landowners to understand how their operations are working for them and how they can use assistance as needed. Often, landowners may not want financial assistance, but rather help with engineering design or the development of a conservation plan to transform their operation from good to great. Conservationists hope to leave the landowner with a blueprint that ensures the long-term sustainability of the land’s soil, water and air quality.

The most commonly implemented conservation practice is crop rotation, she said. Other practices, including interseeding and the addition of cover crops, aim to ensure healthy soil and prevent soil runoff.

“Sometimes, landowners may not see the limitations for their soil,” she said. “We try to help them understand the complexity of soil and how important it is to build up the microorganisms that make fertile, productive soil.”

Taylor said the NRCS works to identify and eliminate barriers for limited resource famers, beginning farmers and historically underserved farmers. This involves hosting local round table meetings, fostering inclusivity and equal access for all services and providing assistance and training.

“We benefit by having an audience that wants help,” she said. “We’ve seen small and beginning farmers expand their operations into sustainable, profitable models. When the landowners start telling the story – when they want to implement some practices they see working well on a neighbor’s farm – that’s what it means to successful.”

During her formative years at UAPB, Taylor said she benefited from a support system of committed professors.

“Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted not being taught by teacher’s assistants,” she said. “At UAPB, professors went to great lengths to support all their students and provide total access at all times. They also held students accountable and wanted us to apply the knowledge we gained. More than just completing assignments, they wanted to challenge us to never be content with the status quo, but to use critical thinking to see new potential.”

Among the professors who made the biggest impression on her, were Dr. Dennis O. Balogu, professor of animal science, Dr. Abdullah Muhammad, professor of plant and soil sciences, Dr. Mohammad Jalaluddin, professor of plant pathology, and Dr. Owen Porter, professor of soil sciences.

“Dr. Porter gave me a much better appreciation for soils,” she said. “I began to realize that if you don’t understand soils, you don’t understand agriculture. Without understanding the cornerstone of farming, it’s impossible to make recommendations to others about how to treat their land.”

Taylor advises current students to make sure to obtain an internship as early as possible. She recommends the NRCS Pathways Programs as options for degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate students studying agricultural and natural resources-related fields.

“In the Pathways Programs, we want to work with students from their freshman year until graduation,” she said. “The program is such a great tool because as soon as students graduate, they have a diverse skill set and are competitive.”

Taylor said her mother often remarks about the noticeable difference that attending an 1890 land-grant institution made in her daughter’s life.

“The nurturing you receive as a student at an 1890 school is different than at any other university,” she said. “Choosing to attend an 1890 university is an investment that increases your confidence, independence, self-growth and motivation. It’s quality education at an affordable price that comes with a unique, personal touch.”

Together with her husband, Myron Taylor, and their two sons, James, 8, and Jonathan, 7, Kasey is proud to continue an agricultural legacy started by her grandfather.

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