State marks stewardship milestones as 2018 begins

9 leaders from around the state share their predictions for this year's big conservation and natural resource trends.

State _marks _stewardship _milestones _looks _ahead _2018_1_636495438787820000 (1)

Illinois’ cover crop trend shows no signs of slowing in 2018, according to state leaders. Anticipate more green fields, similar to this Bureau County cornfield with a great stand of cereal rye, as farmers adapt and adopt this practice. (FarmWeek file photo)

Kay Shipman

Nutrient stewardship progressed in 2017 as recorded in Illinois’ first biennial assessment of the statewide Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. State officials reported “significant progress” in decreased losses of nitrogen and phosphorus. Agriculture alone invested nearly $55 million in research, outreach implementation and monitoring since the strategy was issued in 2015.

Looking ahead to 2018, Illinois Farm Bureau and conservation and natural resource leaders around the state shared conservation and natural resource trends with FarmWeek.

Jeff Kirwan, IFB director and chairman of the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council, Mercer County

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy established best management practices based on science. As farmers, we can work to invest in additional research to learn more and implement what we think will work.

Farmers need to be able to plan and make decisions based on the information gained from aggregated data, on-farm studies and research. With that information in a usable form, even more farmers could benefit.

Related: For more from Kirwan, listen to the accompanying audio interview.

Larry Miller, IFB director and IFB Nutrient Stewardship Grant selection committee, Franklin County

More farmers will become influencers (of best management practices). It will involve other folks growing cover crops and using fertilizer in different ways that will encourage others and broaden the extent of the ideas being used. I have seen this in my area.

I see a technology connection and application to this natural (nutrient) process. Technology will be specific to the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy and will show us measurable results.

Warren Goetsch, Illinois Department of Agriculture deputy director

Continued interest in cover crops. There has been, as supported in the NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Survey), increased use of cover crops, and I think we’ll see more producers experimenting with different varieties. ... One of the challenges is refining that process.

I also see continued split applications and spring applications (of fertilizer). We already saw more of that this fall.

We’ll also see the level of producer awareness of nutrient issues continue. There will be opportunities during the winter for training. A tip of our hat to all the stakeholders who continue to get this (nutrient) message out to producers. 

Ivan Dozier, state conservationist Natural Resources Conservation Service Illinois

The farm bill is up for renewal and conservation programs are sure to be part of the discussion. Farmers need a solid safety net for farm production, and they have spoken out in favor of simplified, effective and voluntary conservation programs. I am optimistic that conservation programs will continue to play a major role as Illinois farmers continue to search for production techniques to meet consumer demand.

Illinois’ Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy will continue to generate interest and stimulate new collaborative efforts. Conservation and production groups will partner with even more diverse groups to focus on addressing the issues in select watersheds.

Cover crops are still the hottest trend in conservation. Farmers who have already achieved success in managing cover crops will continue to fine-tune their management to address specific needs. They are sharing the news of their success and others are listening. As a result, the acreage of cover crops planted in 2018 will again be higher than the previous year.

Ben Hugenberg, chairman Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Committee, Adams County

Increased use of cover crops for nutrient control and soil erosion control. It is a good, new thing to try.

I’ve seen more inline ripping than in the past. It breaks up the underneath side of the ground without disturbing the top. It has been gaining in popularity and helps keep organic matter on the top.

Brent Pollard, chairman of the 2017 Conservation and National Resources IFB Strength with Advisory Team, Winnebago County

More people seem to be adopting cover crops. I had problems getting cereal rye (seed). They couldn’t clean the grain fast enough.

A lot of farmers are using nitrogen better. With split applications, they are gaining money out of their uses.

Russ Higgins, Extension commercial ag educator in Grundy County and Illinois Extension Agricultural Association liaison to IFB

Cautious adoption of cover crops. I see small areas of cover crops here and there (in northern part of the state). It is good that things are moving slowly.

Farmers are more aware of conservation and the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, which is moving to the forefront.

Lauren Lurkins and Lyndsey Ramsey, IFB director and associate director of natural and environmental resources, respectively

Continued strengthening of our IFB water quality programs. These include the IFB Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program, Four R For You (4R4U) and Edge-of-Field Partnership.

Prolonged work on our education and advocacy campaigns related to environmental rules for livestock farmers as well as issues surrounding the Endangered Species Act and monarch butterflies.

Sustained energy investments into meaningful relationships with others, including drinking water supplies, wastewater treatment plants, the general public and researchers working in our state to find farmer solutions on several environmental fronts.

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