December 5th is World Soil Day. World Soil Day was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to celebrate one of our most vital resources. Soil is essential for filtering pollutants from our water, storing carbon, and providing the foundation for an estimated 95 percent of the world’s food supply. At IL Corn, we’re not only celebrating soil, but we’re also providing research and funding to improve soil health for farmers in Illinois. For instance, the IL Corn-led Precision Conservation Management program is partnering with National Corn Growers Association and the Soil Health Partnership in promoting a greater understanding of how soil conservation practices such as cover crops, nutrient management, and reduced tillage are impacting farm financials, farm families, and farming communities.
IL Corn recognizes that adopting conservation practices is a challenge for farmers at any time but can be downright frightening when grain prices are down and input prices are holding steady. PCM was designed to help farmers make management decisions that are financially responsible, first and foremost. We also know that improving soil health and meeting water quality goals, like those of the IL Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, can only happen when farmers from every township in every county in the state see themselves as responsible for doing their part by making a change that addresses environmental issues.
IL Corn has faith in farmers - faith that we can make changes on our own, without one-size-fits-all regulations to address the challenges of local water quality problems, the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico, soil erosion and soil degradation.
The Soil Health Partnership announced it is expanding a pilot project to give more farmers access to the soil health network. As the organization launches phase 2 of its pilot Associate Program, it will invite 75 farmers to enroll in 2019. This will enable more farmers to join SHP in its mission of using science and data to support farmers in adopting agricultural practices that improve the economic and environmental sustainability of the farm.
After enrolling 25 farms in the pilot program in 2018, phase 2 will bring the number of associate sites to 100. The SHP plans a full-scale launch of the Associate Program for 2020 when even more farmers can join.
A less-intensive version of the SHP’s 115 Full Partner sites enrolled in the long-term data project, Associate Program farmers will commit to a 2-year project enrollment. Yearly soil health testing will measure key metrics. Enrolled farmers will choose between the following three treatment options:
- Cover crop vs. no cover crop
- Tillage vs. less intrusive tillage, or no-till
- Nutrient management (comparison of different nutrient sources)
Farmers interested in learning more can visit the Soil Health Partnership website.
An initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, the SHP is an innovative long-term research effort that aims to show U.S. farmers how sustainability through soil health can also lead to increased profitability. There are 140 farms enrolled in the program in 14 states, including the 25 pilot sites from phase 1 of the Associate Program. It is the largest farmer-led soil health research project of its kind.