By Marie Berberea, Fort SillOctober 17, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (Oct. 13. 2013) -- Rows and rows of hay bales are scattered in the grass of Henry Post Army Air Field. The hay is just one of many agricultural leases on Fort Sill.
"It's a win-win situation because we're required to keep the grass at a certain level for wildlife mitigation. If we have too much tall grass then we have a lot of wildlife issues," said Randy Palmer, Henry Post Army Air Field manager.
As part of the lease, the contractor mows the native grass three times a year, and bales it once a year to sell. Each bale of hay can be sold for $60, which means the leasee earns a profit, and Fort Sill earns a profit off leasing the land.
"Instead of us paying money for a contractor to mow it with a brushhogger, an ag leasee cuts it, bales it up, hauls it out of there, and as long as they're doing what they're supposed to do it's a benefit," said Chris Deurmyer, Natural Resources and lease program manager.
Deurmyer said 5,000 acres on post are leased out for haying, or farming alfalfa, wheat, sorghum, and sesame. The plan for each lease goes into the bigger plan of Fort Sill. Fort Sill's biologists create a five-year natural resources management plan that coordinates with training on post, state officials, the Wildlife Department, and with Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Migratory Treaty Act, fawning season, nesting birds, no matter what you do you've got to put a lot of thought into each lease and we've got nine individual leases out there," said Deurmyer.
The money earned from the leases go to the Department of the Army, but Fort Sill can request some to support Natural Resources' needs -- Deurmyer said the majority of which are spent fighting feral hogs.
"What are we here for? The warfighter. How do we support the warfighter without funding? Well the ag program provides that funding for us who tend to be at the bottom of the totem pole because everyone thinks we're just bugs and bunnies and nice to haves," said Deurmyer.
"A hog will eat anything that has a calorie. They're a direct predator, and they root up the ranges and destroy burms."
He said working with the Directorate of Public Works has also saved Fort Sill money in other ways. American Water Enterprises (AWE), Fort Sill's water contractor, uses effluent, or discharge from the sewer plant that is treated and reused to water some of the land.
"It's a cost savings and logistical benefit to the contractor. AWE has a subcontractor that hauls it and the extra nutrients are used by the plants instead of becoming pollution in the water," said Deurmyer.
The manicured land and vegetation also keeps Soldiers and the surrounding areas safer from fire danger.
"It reduces the fuel load for fire, it does some long term benefits for keeping your woody vegetation from coming in there. It's like a yard, when you mow it all the time, trees don't get into it it doesn't turn into a big forest," said Deurmyer.
"Those ag fields are in different stages, they're islands or strips out there and certain times they're going to be foul so they're like a perennial fire break, or if you have a wildfire and it's a green crop that's standing that's not going to burn. It's just part of what helps Fort Sill be Fort Sill that a lot of people don't know about," said Deurmyer.