January 4, 2007

Deberry Retiring After Nearly 40 Years In Soil and Water Conservation Field

For the first time since its inception in 1997 the Northeast Missouri Resource Conservation & Development office will be under new leadership. Tom Deberry, the only director the office has ever had, stepped down from his position on January 3rd.

Deberry’s retirement ended a much longer run in the field, concluding nearly 40 years of service in the conservation arena.

He got his start in Carthage when he took his first job with the Missouri Soil Conservation Service in March of 1968. Deberry transferred to the Dade County and Green County offices early in his career before being named District Conservationist in the Montgomery County office in 1971.

Six years later Deberry found himself relocating again, this time moving to northeast Missouri to take the District Conservationist job in Scotland County.

That’s where the trail ended for the Richland, MO, native, as Memphis has been his home ever since. And it will remain his home even after his retirement.

“This is home,” Deberry said. “I’m calling it quits here at work, but I’ll still be active in the community. Time flies and things have a way of being put on the back burner with the idea of ‘someday’. After 40 years it’s time for someday to be now.”

For 20 years Deberry served as the District Conservationist in Scotland County, working with area landowners on soil and water conservation issues.

In two decades that job description saw many changes. Deberry pointed to funding as one of the key improvements. Early in his career Missouri voters approved a 1/10 cent sales tax for soil and water conservation purposes. The district conservationist said this funding helped local farmers install terraces, ponds and other soil saving structures through cost-share programs funded by the sales tax.

The picture got even better for soil and water conservation in 1985 when Congress enacted a farm bill that created the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The popular soil conservation program pumped federal money into the region while taking some of the region’s most erosion-prone farm ground out of production.

Over the years CRP has expanded and added new programs such as EQIP, CREP and WHIP, all offshoots of the federal program targeting specific ground types for soil conservation and wildlife programs.

“All these different acronyms make it difficult sometimes for people to keep track of,” Deberry said. “But all of these programs provided money for soil and water conservation.”

Acronyms weren’t the only things that made some of these programs difficult for users. Deberry said the amount of paperwork was large for many of the state and federal programs. However over the years the process changed thanks to technology.

“Used to be we would wade through piles of paperwork and have to do all the forms manually,” Deberry said. “Now most everything is done on the computers and the Internet making the process much easier.”

Technology also changed the job. Deberry said he used to have a lot more legwork involved in planning structures or reviewing CRP applications but now can do much of that on the computer with improvements in GPS and satellite mapping that outdated the measuring wheel and the aerial photos.

In 1997 Deberry’s job duties expanded beyond just the soil and water conservation realm. He took on economic development tasks in addition to protecting the region’s natural resources as described by his new job description.

In his nine years as the RC&D director, Deberry helped secure two Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) grants that helped fund the Scotland County Fitness Center and the new gymnasium. He also helped bring Rural Business Opportunity Grants to the six-county district.

He also continued to work diligently for soil and water conservation literally bridging the gap between his two job duties. A total of 14 bridges in the district were replaced with natural structures, installing the roadway on the pond dam.

“These road structures replaced bridges and tubes, saving money,” Deberry. “At the same time the structures prevent erosion and improve safety by eliminating old bridges and adding fire protection with dry hydrants that are built into the dam to allow fire departments easy access to the water.”

For nearly 40 years Deberry ensured easy access to his office. He said that won’t change because he is leaving. District Conservationist Ken Berry will serve as the interim RC&D director until a permanent replacement is named.

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