|Washington, D.C., May 14, 2009 — At a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) tomorrow, Norman “Norm” Berg, NRCS Chief Emeritus and American Farmland Trust (AFT) Senior Advisor will be honored. Congress chose to remember the late Berg in the 2008 Farm Bill for his lifetime of achievements in conservation and farmland protection by renaming and dedicating the National Plant Materials Center in his honor.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and AFT President Jon Scholl will speak at the event, along with other public leaders and conservationists. “We feel deeply the loss of this preeminent conservationist,” says Scholl. “He was a conservationist who was ahead of his time. I think his experience growing up on a farm and experiencing the destruction of the Dustbowl gave him a critical understanding of the importance of soil, from keeping it intact and healthy, to the knowledge of how important soils are to the economic health of our farms, our communities, and, in fact, our nation.”
One of the key achievements in Berg’s career was drafting the Soil and Water Conservation Act, enacted under President Carter, giving greater authority over conservation to USDA and requiring the agency to write a national conservation plan for Congress. “Writing a conservation plan, or nutrient management plan, has become an accepted benchmark and conservation practice, especially as we address some of the most serious natural resources issues we’ve ever faced?such as those we’re addressing with our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay,” Scholl added. “The Soil and Water Conservation Act was the basis for the federal government becoming a partner in protecting farmland—one of our nation’s most valuable strategic resources—and the eventual authorization of the Farmland Information Center.”
Berg worked for the first chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service (SCS), Hugh Hammond Bennett, considered the “father of soil conservation,” and then rose steadily through the USDA ranks, serving as the chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) from 1979 to 1982. As chief of the NRCS, Berg supervised the first National Agricultural Lands Study (NALS) that provided the baseline documentation of the extent and causes of farmland loss in the United States. As a result, the 1981 Farm Bill authorized farmland protection efforts by the USDA, and established the Farmland Information Center.
Norm was raised on a family farm in Pine County, Minnesota, received his BS from the University of Minnesota and a masters in public administration from Harvard University. He served in the U.S. Marines during World War II. A devoted husband and father, Berg was predeceased by his wife Ruth, and is survived by four daughters, five grandsons and granddaughters, and four great-grandchildren.
American Farmland Trust, with the help of NRCS, SWCS, Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District and Norm Berg’s friends and colleagues, established the Norm Berg Special Collection, an online archive of speeches and writings by and about Berg, and key laws and reports that represent milestones in agricultural conservation. The archive can be found at http://www.farmlandinfo.org/norm_berg_collection/, and the collection’s director, Jennifer Dempsey, welcomes additional materials. The public is also invited to share accolades at the same web address.