IFB members, EPA hold 'invaluable' discussion

By Andrea Casali

A massive Knox County machine shed held more than a planter and combine this week as it was the destination for a small roundtable discussion between EPA Region 5 staff and a group of Illinois Farm Bureau members.

Local farmers gathered at Strom Farms, a third-generation family farm northwest of Peoria, for a dialogue with EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede and two of his staff members.

The two-hour discussion was an opportunity to discuss issues impacting agriculture, with a focus on environmental stewardship. Farmers in attendance shared their ongoing nutrient stewardship efforts, such as acreage enrolled in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, filter strips, wildlife habitat, watershed support, 4R management, as well as an IFB Young Leader cover crop program spread across every township in Knox County.

Farmer participants were also able to meet the newest member of Thiede’s team, Region 5 Agricultural Advisor Sharmin Syed. This was a significant moment as Syed’s role had been recently restructured to be part of the Regional Administrator’s immediate office staff.

This restructuring of the agricultural advisor role was a priority as part of Thiede’s vision for future collaboration within the agricultural community.

“This is a very important role for us to make sure that agricultural producers have a conduit into our office and that similarly, when we have news to share, we have a single point of contact that everyone is comfortable with,” Thiede said.

Kurt Thiede, Region 5 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, speaks with farmers during a socially distanced meeting on Grant Strom’s Knox County farm. Participants in the discussion included, from left, Thiede, Illinois Farm Bureau Director of Environmental Policy Lauren Lurkins, Knox County Farm Bureau Manager Hailey Weyhrich, Knox County farmer Brandon Hall, host farmer Grant Strom and IFB Director Jeff Kirwan. (Photo by Andrea Casali)

Other components of his vision for the future include keeping communication lines open and exploring better ways of working with the regulated community to achieve compliance together.

“There’s nothing quite like coming out to where folks feel comfortable in their own setting and hearing from them what challenges they’re facing, what are some of their innovative ideas that we can learn from and how we can figure out ways to partner with one another,” Thiede said.

The mid-morning discussion was the agency’s final stop on their ‘machine shed’ tour across the Midwest, where they visited with a variety of farmers in states including Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Thiede described his day at the Illinois farmstead as “invaluable.”

“Farmers, from my experience, they want to do the right thing,” said Thiede. “They want to be good neighbors, and they’ve got some really innovative ideas and ways of caring for their land. When we can partner together, we’re going to have better, greater environmental outcomes. And my hope is that we can continue that over the next number of years.”

Host farmer Grant Strom shared Thiede’s sentiments on collaboration and continued conservation.

“We can find greater outcomes when we work together,” said Strom.

This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.