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Interim leader takes helm of Indiana NRCSInterim leader takes helm of Indiana NRCS

Leadership remains a priority at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Indiana.

Tom J. Bechman

April 6, 2023

2 Min Read
Jerod Chew, David Doctorian and Shannon Zezula
MOVING FORWARD: David Doctorian (center), a regional soil health specialist for NRCS, is temporarily serving as interim state conservationist in Indiana. He is flanked by Jerod Chew (left), assistant state conservationist for partnerships, and Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist. Tom J. Bechman

“I am not here to speak or play a direct role in this meeting — this is the farmers’ meeting. I am just here to learn and to show support for the farmers’ efforts in promoting soil and water conservation.”

That’s how David Doctorian responded when asked if he was going to talk at a recent field day for conservation farmers hosted by Mike Starkey at his Brownsburg, Ind., farm. Doctorian is new to Indiana, but he is not new to soil conservation. From Missouri, Doctorian normally serves as a regional soil health specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Until early summer, he’s serving as the interim state conservationist for Indiana.

Jerry Raynor served in that role after Jane Hardisty, Greenfield, Ind., retired. Raynor went to Washington, D.C., to the national NRCS office on assignment late last year. Recently, he accepted a leadership role with NRCS at the federal level and will not return to Indiana.

“This is a temporary assignment for me until a new state conservationist is selected, or until early July,” Doctorian said. “I am here because I was asked to do this job, and I was honored to accept.

My role is to keep things rolling at the state level of NRCS until a new state conservationist is selected. Indiana has a lot of good programs already underway, and we will continue moving forward.”

Other Indiana NRCS staff and programs

Several other people will assist Doctorian in that task. Some of them also attended the field day on Starkey’s farm. Jerod Chew, assistant state conservationist for partnerships, was on hand and is no stranger to Starkey’s operation. He was the district conservationist for Hendricks County, Ind., until recently and advised Starkey about various conservation program opportunities while in that role.

State resource conservationist Shannon Zezula, also in attendance at the field day, is also familiar with Starkey’s farm. In October, he was on-site to present demonstrations and information about ways to prevent soil erosion to FFA members touring the farm during their visit to the National FFA Convention.

Curtis Knueven, assistant state conservationist for programs, attended the field day and helped Chew explain opportunities open to farmers through the Conservation Stewardship Program. He noted that CSP rewards farmers who already carry out practices to protect soil and water resources while challenging them to tackle new practices to take their efforts to an even higher level at the same time. Starkey participates in CSP.

The biggest obstacle to participating in the program can be the bookkeeping and paperwork required in filling out forms to document details of practices that are underway on your farm. Third-party sources are available who can assist with the paperwork. They often collect a portion of CSP payments in return for their assistance.

“It is a program worth considering if you are doing conservation farming, and want to do more in the future,” Chew said.

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