The soil in Marlboro County, S.C. is known to be fertile, and legend has it that the land was once so productive it was sold by the pound instead of the acre.
In this agricultural oasis, brothers Oliver and Martin Smith are continuing the farming tradition that has been in their family for three generations.
Oliver Smith credits his grandmother, a freed slave, for starting the family farm on 400 acres of land in the state’s Pee Dee region. Now, he and his brother manage the forestry operation, which their father helped grow by another 50 acres. They’re working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to use conservation to help their operation and the environment.
NRCS offers a variety of financial incentives to woodland owners who want to protect and improve their land. Reforestation has many benefits, including preventing erosion, improving soil quality, establishing wildlife habitat and providing recreational opportunities.
With the help of NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the agency was able to help the Smith family reforest 17 acres with loblolly and longleaf pine trees. NRCS helped them pay for the preparation and planting of the trees.
Frank Stephens, NRCS’ local district conservationist, said he has enjoyed working with the brothers, calling them true stewards of the land.
“Martin and Oliver were determined to do the right thing with their land and wanted to make sure that it is here for their kids and generations to follow,” Stephens said.
Forests are profitable investments because they can be thinned and harvested over time.
Work on the Smith’s land was partially funded through the USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative. The national initiative addresses high-priority funding and technical assistance needs in rural communities in 16 states, including South Carolina, with a special emphasis on historically underserved communities.
Stephens said the key to working with landowners who might be new to Farm Bill programs and USDA is keeping the lines of communication open.
“I wanted to make sure that I developed a relationship with the family, and kept them informed on programs they may be interested in,” Stephens said.
The Smiths have also worked with NRCS on other conservation projects, including the addition of wildlife food plots, a great addition for nearby wildlife and for the family of outdoor enthusiasts.