Conservation districts were created in the 1930s in response to the “Dust Bowl,” a decade long wind-erosion
event centered in the Great Plains. In the 1920s, wheat prices sky-rocketed and farmers in the Great Plains, aided
by advances in mechanized farm equipment, planted as many acres as possible. This was later known as “The Great
Plow Up.” Unfortunately, a major drought started in 1930, and without rain wheat couldn’t germinate and grow. This
left plowed up acres bare and exposed to the wind, which whipped up giant clouds of topsoil. Dust clouds traveled
thousands of miles, leaving highly-eroded fields in their wake. With no rain and their nutrient-rich topsoil blown
away, many farmers and their families struggled to survive.
In response to the Dust Bowl, the Federal Government created the Soil Conservation Service, now known as the
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They also passed legislation allowing states to create Soil
Conservation Districts. Local farmers and landowners gathered and elected a local board of supervisors to oversee
conservation efforts. The purpose of the Soil Conservation Service and Soil Conservation Districts was to educate
farmers and landowners on the importance of preventing erosion. They also provided advice and financial incentives
to farmers interested in protecting soil.
The first conservation district in Cleveland County was the Broad River Soil Conservation District. Formed in 1938,
it encompassed Cleveland, Rutherford, and Polk County. Like the Great Plains states, our soil was highly eroded;
however, rain erosion was the culprit. Researchers believe the Piedmont and Foothills lost on average between 8 to
12 inches of topsoil between the late 1800s and early 1900s with the arrival of cotton farming. Eventually, in the
western Piedmont, the sight of red-clay and gullies would become common, as much of the topsoil had been washed
To prevent further erosion, the Broad River Conservation district promoted contour planting, terracing, strip
cropping, and grass waterways and worked with farmers to implement these practices. In 1961, the Broad River
Conservation district split into three districts corresponding with county boundaries. The Cleveland County Soil
Conservation District continued to work with farmers and landowners, and in the early 1970s, it began promoting a
new type of farming called no-till farming. Instead of disking or turning over the land, which exposed bare soil,
farmers planted directly into the stubble of previous crops. By 1985, the majority of crops in Cleveland County
were planted no-till, greatly reducing erosion.
Also in the 1980s, an emphasis was placed on protecting the water quality of streams and lakes, and the Cleveland
County Soil Conservation District officially added water to its title. Now the Cleveland County Soil and
Water Conservation District continues to work with the public to prevent erosion and sedimentation of streams.