Farm Bureau conservation leaders recently took their experiences and efforts to reduce nutrient losses directly to state environmental regulators and came away pleasantly surprised.
The Farm Bureau group met with Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Director Alec Messina and senior staff. They included the Illinois Farm Bureau Conservation and Natural Resources (CNR) Strength with Advisory Team (SWAT), IFB Directors Jeff Kirwin and Mark Reichert, and IFB natural resources staff Lauren Lurkins and Lyndsey Ramsey.
The state Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) served as a main topic, but other issues also were discussed.
“It was the start of a dialogue,” CNR SWAT Chairman Brent Pollard said of the meeting. “The folks at IEPA said our goals are the same for nutrient reduction. They understand it’s in our best interest to keep nitrogen and phosphorous in our fields and out of streams. It’s (nutrient loss) an economic loss to us.”
Messina told FarmWeek, “The meeting was a great opportunity to learn about the strategies farmers are taking, through actual implementation of conservation practices, to reduce nutrient losses throughout all farmed acres in Illinois.
“As a result of this meeting, we can take all of this information that we’re sharing, get it out to all of our partners throughout the state, and really multiply these successes for the betterment of Illinois’ waterways,” the director continued.
Each of the farmers shared what’s being done on their land to reduce nutrient losses and the complications they encounter. SWAT member Jared Gregg noted some IEPA staff appeared surprised by the farmers’ actions.
Pollard and Gregg said several IEPA staff praised farmers’ efforts to implement NLRS and urged farmers to share their conservation efforts so the public is made aware.
IEPA staff also emphasized the need to measure and track progress in the state, according to Gregg. The Piatt County farmer explained to IEPA staff that many conservation farmers are conscientious and “do it because it’s the right thing,” not to earn awards or receive accolades.
Both Gregg and Pollard characterized the meeting as positive – even better than they had anticipated. Gregg admitted being uneasy and wondering if the farmers would be criticized. Both SWAT members said they were pleased with exchange between farmers and IEPA staff. “I think IEPA gets a bad connotation in the farming community,” Gregg said.
Lurkins praised the SWAT members being “right there making their own cases and taking this opportunity.” Such face-to-face meetings help break down barriers, she noted.
“As IFB staff, we spend a lot of time building relationships between our farmer members and agency staff. This SWAT-IEPA meeting is a great example of how Farm Bureau is meant to work.”