The Kankakee County Soil and Water Conservation District exists to provide information and services regarding the conservation, development and management of the land and water. Working closely with the United States Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service , they help residents implement practices that conserve soil, water and other natural resources.
“We show the public a better way to manage natural resources,” said Emilie Janes, KCSWCD resource conservationist. To further their mission, the KCSWCD offers programs and services to those in the farming and the agriculture industries.
Partners for Conservation Cost Share
The KCSWCD receives funds from the Illinois Department of Agriculture for the Partners for Conservation Cost Share program to administer the cost-share, manage contracts and assist farmers with their conservation practices and projects. Practices include cover crops, decommissioning and strip tillage.
This year, cover crops have been the district’s main focus. Cover crops protect and build the soil in the off-season, stated Janes. Cover crops also protect the soil from wind erosion, prevents soil runoff, assists with weed suppression, helps seek out and sequester nitrogen to return to the next cash crop and builds soil health, Janes added.
“It’s important farmers make sure something is in the field,” said Dakota Behrends, agriculture outreach coordinator.
Behrends noted that this year, 18 farmers are participating in the Partners for Conservation Cost Share program, planting radishes, oats, sorghum and clover as cover crops.
This year, the KCSWCD has helped establish upwards of 1,000 acres of cover crops through the program. The district anticipates the release of additional cost share money for fiscal year 2020 for more farmers to participate.
Partners for Conservation Cost Share funds are also used to promote strip tillage, a reduced tillage practice where farmers till narrow strips between rows, leaving residue between strips to protect the soil.
“Strip tillage merges the soil health and conservation benefits of no-till while preserving the soil warming perks of conventional tillage,” said Janes.
Behrends added, “Strip tillage helps keep microbiological life underground, reduces erosion and nutrient runoff and builds soil health.”
The Partners for Conservation Cost Share program also provides funding for farmers to seal abandoned wells to protect the ground water from pollutants.
Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources
Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR), a simple, free and confidential tool, assists farm operators and land owners evaluate their nutrient and soil loss management practices on individual fields, stated Janes. The ultimate goal of this program is to meet the goals of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS). The STAR program was developed by the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District and was adopted by soil and water conservation district’s through Illinois.
The STAR evaluation program assigns points for each cropping, tillage, nutrient application and soil conservation activity used on individual fields. Points are tallied and the field is assigned a one to five star rating.
“The STAR program helps farmers assess their nutrient and soil loss management practices on individual fields and identify areas to improve,” said Janes. “It assists producers in obtaining documentation to support potential water quality issues and shows strides toward meeting the goals of Illinois’ nutrient loss reduction strategy as well as obtain potential market incentives for sustainable cropping practices.”
“It’s a great way to measure sustainability,” said Behrends who noted that area farmers are already participating in the program.
Fall Cover for Spring Savings
This year, the Illinois Department of Agriculture adopted and implemented a crop insurance reward program for cover crops, Fall Covers for Spring Savings: Crop Insurance Reward Pilot Program.
Through the program, farmers can receive a $5 per acre insurance rebate for each acre of cover crops planted. Cover crops must be planted by Dec. 15, the same date online applications can be filled out.
Locally, the KCSWCD will host a workshop mid-December to help farmers sign-up and fill out the paperwork.
Urban conservation outreach
While the KCSWCD has several program that assist the agriculture community, they also provide urban conservation and outreach in the community.
Education is an important component to the district and they strive to provide the public with information, outreach and resources regarding the conservation of natural resources.
This year, the KCSWCD began a conservation kits for education program. Kits containing information regarding soil health, water quality, insects and native plants are available for teachers to use in the classroom. In addition, KCSWCD employees visit classroom and provide information and presentations on natural resources and local conservation issues.