As we begin the new year and the third decade of the 21st century, perhaps the most crucial hurdle facing agriculture remains soil, water and air conservation. With the past decade closing on a sour note, environmentally, following a mostly negative review of farmers’ conservation practices under the voluntary Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, time may be running out before federal regulators enact strict monitoring and enforcement measures for farm operations. But the issue is greater than the effects of potential regulatory actions and their cost to farmers — the future is at stake for the next generation. As 2020 dawns, please read on for a sample of what farmers are doing to help …
USDA issues ‘12 Gifts of Conservation’
WASHINGTON, D.C. — During the holiday season, the United States Department of Agriculture highlighted the “12 Gifts of Conservation” (#12GiftsOfConservation) given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and future. The message shined a spotlight on farmers that employ cover crops and have witnessed improvements to their soil’s physical and biological profile.
“Conservation gives many gifts — both to farmers and the rest of the world. Each breath of air, sip of water, and bite of food you will ever take exists because of natural resources and how we protect them,” the message reads, in part. “USDA conservation programs provide technical and financial assistance to help producers integrate conservation practices on working lands as well as protect the most sensitive lands.”
Conservation programs currently offered to farmers, ranchers and rural landowners by the USDA include the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Emergency Conservation Program. (USDA news)
New soil health program takes root
BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois Farm Bureau reported on Dec. 27 that a new USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service soil health program grant is now available to Illinois farmers and landowners. Illinois was among 23 states selected for the NRCS’ inaugural on-farm conservation innovation trial project, which will help farmers understand and implement soil health practices. It is funded by a NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and overseen by the Soil Health Partnership, a program of the National Corn Growers and Illinois Corn Growers associations.
Participating farmers will conduct side-by-side trials of various tillage practices, cover crops, nutrient management practices, grazing and manure usage. Farmers’ financial risks will be mitigated to help offset seed costs, minimize yield disruptions and encourage farmer participation, according to IFB staff. Farmers may contact the ICGA for more info.
Conservation cropping topic of meetings
SPRINGFIELD — We’ve mentioned this upcoming event previously, but it bears repeating that the 2020 Illinois Conservation Cropping Seminars are right around the corner. During the three seminars, which are set for Jan. 21 in Mount Vernon, Jan. 22 in Bloomington and Jan. 23 in Rochelle, guest speakers will focus on sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices.
“This is the seventh year for the Conservation Cropping Seminars which bring together tried and tested farm authorities and research-driven industry professionals to discuss the successes and failures of transforming to a more sustainable operation,” said John Sullivan, Illinois Ag Director, in an Illinois e-News release from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
“I believe more farmers are ready to take steps to make small improvements on their farm that make sense environmentally and economically,” added Illinois USDA-NRCS State Conservationist Ivan Dozier. For more information on the day-long seminars, phone the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District at 217-352-3536.
ICGA water quality program funded
BLOOMINGTON — More than $250,000 was recently awarded to the Illinois Corn Growers Association’s water quality program, Precision Conservation Management, allowing the ICGA to continue their conservation programming for farmers in 2020 and beyond. The award, which came courtesy of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will sponsor precision conservation specialists in Illinois and Kentucky, which is also served by PCM. The conservation specialists currently work with more than 300 farmers in 16 Illinois counties and 10 in Kentucky, but the grant funds will sponsor five additional specialists.
“PCM’s aggregated and anonymized dataset is used to benefit all farmers by demonstrating the impact of conservation practices on farm financial returns,” explained Laura Gentry, ICGA director of water quality science. “This program is promoting real change for all farmers in Illinois thanks to the hard work of our Precision Conservation Specialists and the willingness of our farmers to try new practices and measure their results.”
Maximum utilization of the grant money will require an almost $300,000 match from the ICGA and its partners in the PCM project, Illinois Farm Bureau staff reported Dec. 26.
Specialty Crops Conference to share growers’ stories
BLOOMINGTON — Nonfarmers are fascinated to learn how farmers care for their land and base their decisions, according to Janice Person, a communication consultant for the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, which was established in 1989 by the Illinois Farm Bureau. “They want you to share their values– that’s what they care about,” Person told Kay Shipman of the IFB news service last week. Person will deliver the keynote address at next week’s Illinois Specialty Crop Conference, scheduled for Jan. 8-10 at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield.
Person, who launched her own “Grounded by Farm” podcast in December, will share her perceptions of changes in consumer values regarding food during the conference, which boasts nearly 100 speakers and 60 trade show vendors. For more information on the event, contact Charlene Blary at 309-557-2107. Online registration is available at www.specialtygrowers.org.
Illinois Farm Fact:
Using biodiesel reduces vehicle emissions because carbon dioxide released from biodiesel combustion is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed from growing soybeans or other feedstocks used to produce the fuel. (U.S. Dept. of Energy)