Illinois Makes Strides in Conservation Tillage and Cover Crops

The American Farmland Trust says this about the Midwest’s heritage in agriculture:

With flat prairies, plentiful water, and rich, deep soils, the Midwest is one of the most intensely farmed regions in the world. We depend on it for many of our grocery staples – from corn and soybeans to wheat and meat.

But the Midwest’s abundance of fertile farmland has sometimes led us to take it for granted. We’re rapidly paving over some of the most productive soils and farmland in the world.

At the same time, tons of prime topsoil washes away – and we can’t afford to lose it. In the Midwest, we need to save the land – not just by the acre but also by the inch.

Illinois, 2nd in the nation in production of corn and soybeans, has been somewhat late to the table on soil conservation methods. Cover crop pioneer Mike Plumer worked for decades for Illinois’ major ag university as an Extension educator and agronomist. Despite his untiring advocacy for no-till and cover crops, his university seemed indifferent and even adversarial to his claim that conservation practices were the future of agriculture. Adverse to change, some believe that quality soil will continue without fail, and what dips in productivity one experiences, you can augment with chemistry.

Another Midwest pioneer in cover crop practices, Dan Towery, hails from Indiana, but his work has taken him far afield, and also in close-by partnership with Plumer. His current involvement in a NRCS and SERE project in Illinois, however, spells good news for the day when Illinois will hit its stride with its neighbors, advocating soil conservation, better soil management and improved water quality..

A sign of things on the move in Illinois is the information available from the NRCS office. CLICK here for a look.

And, through NRCS and EQIP, funding is available this year for Illinois growers interested in doing more to save the quality of their soil through conservation measures, like cover crops. CLICK here for an application, courtesy of the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices.