Using 'multitude of approaches' and working with variety of partners, farm group starting to see movement toward statewide Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy goals.
Reducing nutrient losses across the Illinois farm landscape requires sustained, diverse solutions and commitment.
In the past three years, Illinois Farm Bureau invested more than $500,000, helped with homegrown projects involving nearly 100 local partners in 54 counties and shared information with about 40,000 farmers, landowners, educators and ag partners. The investment of farmers’ dollars, time and labor reveals the depth of dedication, according to Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr.
“By funding this ourselves rather than using grant funding, this shows the commitment of farmers,” Guebert said. “They are true stewards and want to leave their farms to the next generation as good or better than they inherited them.”
IFB commitment and support are leveraged on the local level. Many county Farm Bureaus and their local partners contribute matching funding and in-kind services as part of IFB Nutrient Stewardship Grants.
At the same time, an agricultural recession has caused farm profits to sink and farm incomes to fall. However, farmers continued to invest in conservation practices and stewardship. “In these tough economic times, this (investment) shows we are truly committed,” Guebert said.
IFB also is leveraging its efforts through other partnerships. IFB is working with GROWMARK Inc. and 11 local FS affiliates on a Four R For You program with an emphasis on field demonstrations. A unique partnership connecting IFB, the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is introducing farmers, landowners and others to woodchip bioreactors.
Complex issues, such as nutrient management, require considerable awareness and education, which are IFB priorities. Since 2015, about 40,000 farmers and others have participated in 237 events, ranging from workshops and field days to conference sessions and webinars.
Taking a multipronged approach, IFB and county Farm Bureaus are educating several generations simultaneously. Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom reaches young students with nutrient-related lessons and educational materials. County Farm Bureaus involve high school, junior college and university students with local nutrient projects. On-farm research and demonstrations offer information to help those currently farming to tweak their operations or try new ideas.
But Illinois farmers need multiple options to provide crop nutrients while addressing nutrient challenges in their watersheds. Given the diversity of Illinois agriculture, IFB supports research and demonstration of diverse conservation practices and structures.
“You have to have a multitude of approaches,” Guebert said. “What works for me will not work for everyone. Every farmer has to decide what to do and what will work on his farm.”
Long-term commitments are needed to reach the statewide Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy goals to lower all nitrogen and phosphorus moving into water by 45 percent compared to average 1980-96 levels. The interim goals include a 15 percent nitrogen reduction and a 25 percent phosphorus reduction by 2025.
Guebert acknowledged some improvements stemming from recent changes may not be realized for years. “The results of what we are doing to improve groundwater and surface water, these results will be long term,” he said. “We have to continue this for years and may not see the full impact, but we are starting to see a difference.
“The IFB Board has committed to fund projects to work with the county Farm Bureaus. The county Farm Bureaus are innovative,” Guebert said, adding, “I would hope the board would continue to fund these types of projects.”