By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

IPPA board members Mike Haag and Curt Zehr meet with Congressman Darin LaHood (center) to emphasize the importance of pork and trade to the United States.

This week we spotlight Earth Day (April 22) and some of the conservation farming efforts taking place throughout the state. Also in the news: pork producers from Illinois lobbied for their industry in Washington, and state legislation designed to tighten existing regulations for livestock farms is on hold — for now. 

Online conservation tool announced by NRCS

CHAMPAIGN — Just in time for Earth Day, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Illinois is promoting a new online conservation option that provides farmers and landowners access to a secure website where they can pull up conservation plans, review or amend application paperwork, digitally sign documents, or check on payments. “This is a 21st century business option designed to help farmers save time and improve efficiency,” said Illinois State Conservationist Ivan Dozier, of the new ‘Conservation Client Gateway’ (CCG). “This tool will improve farmers’ ability to get things done when they need (them) done.”

Vermilion County farmer Carl Clark was one of the first to sign up for the CCG, and reports that it has already saved him time and money. “It’s a 35 minute trip into Danville from my farm. I don’t always have time for those trips. (With CCG) I can view things online any time so I don’t have to file it here or try and find it. All my other files are digital — it makes conservation compliance easier for me,” said Clark.

More information and free online signup for CCG is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/cgate/. (USDA-NRCS Illinois)

Soybean growers practicing voluntary BMPs

BLOOMINGTON — Illinois soybean growers are embracing voluntary best management practices (BMPs) espoused within the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, which encourages farmers to take a proactive approach to preventing farm nutrient runoff and erosion in the crop fields. According to a 370-grower survey conducted in January and February 2017, 86 percent use regular soil tests, 81 percent use reduced tillage, 52 utilize split nutrient applications, and 55 percent use precision agriculture technology, including variable-rate seeding and nutrient applications. In addition, 37-46 percent have installed buffer strips (combining 2016 and 2017 data) and 26-34 percent have adopted cover crops. The study was funded by the Illinois Soybean Association, and serves to reflect Illinois soybean growers’ commitment to land, air and water stewardship.

Illinois Farm Fact:

Corn planting in Illinois was one percent complete as of April 9. (USDA-NASS Heartland)

ICGA: corn growers can test water for free

BLOOMINGTON — Farmers can keep their Earth Day vibe going all spring and summer by having their field drainage water tested for nitrate presence, under a confidential program offered by Illinois Corn and administered through the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS). The NLRS helps encourage farmers to utilize proven best management practices (BMPs) that reduce field nutrient losses. The free program is being offered at dozens of county farm bureau and soul and water conservation offices throughout the state, and will continue throughout the summer at many locations.

“We’re really encouraging our members and all corn farmers to bring in at least one water sample to be tested,” said Dustin Durdan, Illinois Corn Growers Association president. “It’s difficult to establish a strategy for nutrient management on your farm if you don’t have any idea where you’re starting.” Water samples should be submitted in a clean and clear container in volumes of eight or more ounces. Samples should be taken no more than 48 hours prior to submission and should remain refrigerated, if stored. The testing is for water drawn from tile lines and other drainage mechanisms, ponds and streams; it is not intended for testing well water or drinking water sources.

A complete set of sample collection instructions can be found on the Illinois Council for Best Management Practices at www.illinoiscbmp.org.  A listing of participating offices, dates and times for testing is currently accessible through the Illinois Corn website at www.ilcorn.org.

Pork producers take FMD message to capitol

SPRINGFIELD — Five Illinois pork producers traveled to Washington, D.C. for two days as part of the National Pork Producers Council legislative fly-in. While Mike Haag, Bob Frase, Curt Zehr, Phil Borgic and Ken Maschhoff discussed a myriad of important trade and policy issues during 20 meetings held with members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation, the current Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) and National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) leaders also lobbied for “robust” funding for a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine bank in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The pork producers’ organizations recently participated in an FMD crisis drill at the headquarters of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, as reported here. The IPPA and NPC farmer-members told lawmakers that FMD presents a critical risk to the U.S. livestock industry and could cripple the entire agricultural sector from its ripple effects. An FMD vaccine bank would safeguard the livestock industry by allowing it to rapidly respond with vaccinations to quell outbreaks.

“This legislative action conference gives pork producers an opportunity to communicate our position on key issues and to educate our congressional members on the economic importance of livestock to the U.S. and Illinois,” said Haag, who is IPPA president-elect, in a news release.

CAFO-LMFA bill on brief hiatus?

SPRINGFIELD — State Sen. David Koehler’s legislation affecting existing regulations for large livestock barns, SB 1272 and SB 1273, was not heard by the Senate Environment and Conservation Committee after Koehler reportedly decided not to call the bills — after meeting with those on both sides of the issue. Koehler is seeking major changes to the Livestock Management Facilities Act of 1996 that established modern regulations and standards for new and expanding livestock structures.