The Illinois Farm Bureau is committing $100,000 to a new grant program to help county Farm Bureaus implement strategies next year that will improve soil health and water quality and reduce fertilizer runoff in their area. The grant program is designed to engage county Farm Bureaus in the effort to increase nutrient stewardship practices by farmers as the state strives to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from farms by 45% over the next 20 years.
Prairie Rivers Network is an active stakeholder in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy’s Policy Work Group, which is charged with implementing the state’s policy to reduce the flow of nutrient pollution into Illinois’ rivers, which ultimately flow into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. In Illinois agricultural runoff accounts for 80 percent of the nitrogen and 48 percent of the phosphorous that flows into Illinois rivers each year and is contributing directly to often toxic algal blooms in drinking water sources as well as the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
The success of the Strategy relies on farmers to voluntarily change fertilizer application practices and adopt other nutrient management practices to reduce the amount of fertilizer chemicals, manure and topsoil that are lost with snow melt and rain runoff. The Illinois Farm Bureau grant program encourages county Farm Bureaus to collaborate with local watershed groups, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other partners to assess what is needed in their county to promote land and water quality stewardship and nutrient management best practices by farmers.
At Prairie Rivers Network, we are encouraged to see the commitment of the Illinois Farm Bureau and engagement by county Farm Bureaus to water quality stewardship, but we also recognize the projected cost of achieving the state’s targeted reduction of nutrients by 45% far exceeds this investment. The Illinois EPA projects that it will cost up to $850 million per year over the next 20 years to achieve the targeted reductions in nitrogen and phosphorous from coming from all sources across the state. While changes in some nutrient stewardship practices will actually save farmers and communities money, serious commitment to reducing nutrient pollution will require major changes by most farmers. Removing these pollutants is costly but critical if we are going to protect the safety and health of our waters and of those in the Gulf of Mexico.