R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: ‘Perfect Storm’ conditions spark field fires

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

The STAR conservation farming program, sponsored by the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District, has issued its first annual report detailing participants’ efforts in reducing sediment, N and P losses. (Photo by Tim Alexander)

For the second time this summer, a wind-related calamity leads our weekly farm news headlines; we have info on the cluster of crop field fires that occurred last week. Also in the news: Cheri Bustos has introduced legislation that will increase biofuel demand and is supporting modernization of truckers’ hours-of-service rules, and we have details on conservation successes reported by Illinois “STAR” farmers … please read on for more! 

‘Perfect Storm’ conditions spark field fires

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — There were no less than 20 crop field fires across Illinois last week, fueled by a “perfect storm” of above-average temperatures, dry crop conditions and high winds as farmers attempted to harvest their crops. This is according to the Illinois Farm Bureau news service, which reported fires erupting on Oct. 14 near Altamont, Beecher City, Carlinville, Champaign, Clinton, Danforth, Delavan, Effingham, Equality, Galesburg, Germantown, Harvel, La Houge, Lebanon, Mahomet, Mason City, Paris, Peotone, Tonica and other locations.
Various sources were attributed to the fires, including careless use of smoking materials and farm machinery. The unifying factor behind the fires was unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures in the lower 80s or some 20 degrees above average. “The other key contributing factors were very dry conditions, with a good chunk of east and southeast Illinois under moderate drought, and there were very strong winds gusting to 30 to 35 mph,” said Matt Barnes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln.

The fires ranged in size from 20 to more than 500 acres, with peak wind gusts of 49 mph reported in Champaign County, reported the IFB’s Daniel Grant. A call to the IFB media office on Oct. 15 revealed that the farm bureau is working with COUNTRY Financial to get a better handle on how many acres of crops were lost to the fires; expect more details next week.


Bustos pushes biofuels legislation, HAULS Act

PEORIA — Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois recently introduced the Next Generation Fuels Act, with the goal of increasing demand for biofuels and reducing carbon emissions. She recently came to Peoria to discuss how enforcing a minimum octane standard for gasoline and requiring that sources of the added octane reduce carbon emissions can increase demand for crops used for biofuels.

“For the last three and a half years, we have been forced to fight battle after battle and face this Administration’s broken promise after broken promise to ensure our country is meeting the full potential of biofuels,” Bustos, a Democrat representing Illinois’ 17th District, said in a news release. “(This bill) looks toward the future to make sure we bring an environmental lens to biofuels production, in order to increase demand while reducing carbon emissions.”

Bustos also spoke out in favor of the newly introduced Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety Act that would modernize the exemption to agricultural hours-of-service rules. The bill, introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., would eliminate the “planting and harvesting periods” requirements in favor of a year-round agricultural exemption, provide a 150 air-miles exemption from HOS regulation on the back end of hauls, and update the definition of an agricultural commodity, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau.


U of I focuses on producer mental health

URBANA — As COVID-19 cases mount in Illinois, researchers at the University of Illinois and Illinois Extension are working to ensure producers and their families have the resources and access to services to manage their stress and mental health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network grant program, awarded nearly $7.2 million in investment funding for a 12-state collaborative that will create and expand stress management and mental health resources and services to agricultural producers and stakeholders in the North Central region.

“We know the agricultural community is under tremendous stress, which can negatively affect mental health,” said Josie Rudolfi, assistant professor in agricultural and biological engineering at the U of I and an extension specialist. “While producers experience a number of barriers to formal mental health care, we realize agricultural producers are nestled within families and social groups, the agricultural industry, and larger communities. These community connection points provide opportunity for resources and service intervention.”

In March 2020, Illinois Extension and Illinois AgrAbility co-hosted the Ag Mental Health Summit along with the Illinois Farm Bureau. Over 55 extension, agribusiness, public health, and healthcare professionals participated in this one-day summit to identify the resources and services available to agricultural producers, explore collaborations, and identify programming, resource, and service gaps.

Families can reach out to their local U of I Extension offices to learn more about the mental health services that are available to farmers through the program.


Inaugural STAR report shows growth

CHAMPAIGN — An innovative program that identifies farmers who embrace conservation practices to potential customers has released its first annual report detailing producers’ efforts.

The free-of-charge STAR (Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources) tool provides farm operators and landowners a means to evaluate and improve conservation progress, according to Dr. Emily Bruner, chair of the STAR science advisory committee.

“While the STAR Initiative is practice-based, allowing farmers flexibility in choosing their path to conservation success, our 2019 Annual Report summarizes individual practices reported from STAR fields and translates this data into environmental impacts,” Bruner said in a news release.

Over 200 Illinois farmers utilized the STAR tool on over 80,000 acres in 2019, with the use of no-till and strip-till by STAR farmers accounting for 3,374 truckloads of sediment removed from Illinois waterways. In addition, over 15,000 pounds of phosphorus was kept in the field via STAR-approved practices.

Further, the use of cover crops by STAR farmers accounted for 1,168 truckloads of sediment kept out of waterways, over 15,000 pounds of phosphorus left in fields and more than 73,000 pounds of nitrate-nitrogen kept in fields, the report highlighted. STAR representatives can be contacted at 217-778-0272 or STAR@CCSWD.com.


Illinois Farm Fact:

Due to COVID-19, the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association is canceling its winter convention and trade show at the Peoria Civic Center. (IFCA news release)