Food production and conservation can go hand-in-hand.
The Problem: Business as Usual
In Illinois, we’re intimately familiar with a very particular type of farm and farming. The parcels of land are often very large and they usually produce a single crop. Illinois is dominated by corn and soybeans. These are crops that must be planted every year, and many farmers use prodigious amounts of chemical inputs (in combination with genetically modified seeds) in order to maximize yield and prevent other species, whether plant or animal, from invading the vast territory claimed by corn and beans. And it is often said that this is the way farming must be done if
1. the world’s population is to be fed, and 2. the farmer is to make a profit. Unfortunately, this leads to soil degradation and nutrient loss, both of which are a threat to water quality.
The Solution: Sustainable Farming
Alternate ways of farming, including organic, cover crops, and other conservation practices must demonstrate that ethical, sustainable farming is not just possible, but will allow family farmers to thrive.
Prairie Rivers Network are active partners with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, conservation groups and agriculture producer groups to encourage adoption of conservation best management practices by Illinois farmers.
Some of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy’s Best Management Practices (BMPs) encouraged by the Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District for farmers to implement on their farmland include:
• Develop a nutrient management plan for each field;
• Utilize the Maximum Return to Nitrogen (MRTN) Calculator;
• Split application of nitrogen;
• Practice the 4 R’s (Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place) of Nutrient Use;
• Apply all fall nitrogen above 50 degrees with a nitrogen stabilizer;
• Do not apply phosphorus or manure on frozen ground;
• Ensure all conservation practices needed are in place to prevent water runoff;
• Make use of spring soil sampling;
• Consider the use of Triple Super 0-46-0; and
• Plant a cover crop on every field.