Each Earth Day, internet memes pop up all over the place proclaiming farmers the original conservationists.
And it’s true. Farmers have been caring for the earth and their land for generations. And they’ll continue to do so for generations to come in order to ensure their families will be able to keep farming and raising animals on the same ground they have used for years.
But, with so much modern technology at their fingertips, what are farmers and ranchers doing today to conserve and preserve the land?
For starters, Illinois farmers sought significant changes to the Illinois Fertilizer Act to establish the Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC). NREC serves as a sustainable funding mechanism for nutrient research and educational programs. For each ton of bulk fertilizer sold in the state, $.75 cents is used to support projects and programs that address the role of nutrients in enhancing Illinois crop production while minimizing the environmental impact.
Additionally, 20 percent of NREC funds must be dedicated to on-farm research and demonstration projects that address water quality issues. And with annual funding between $2 and $2.5 million, that means plenty of research into keeping water safe and clean. In 2014, 15 projects will be funded, totaling more than $2.55 million.
Illinois farmers also are a part of the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (CBMP). Their Keep it for the Crop (KIC) program is aimed at reducing nutrient losses, educating suppliers and farmers, and dedicating resources toward research to reduce nutrient losses and enhance nutrient efficiency. Additionally, the program has focused on water quality and nitrate load in eight priority watersheds within the state.
The KIC program works with farmers and fertilizer dealers to establish on-farm nitrogen rate trials in order to provide farmers with a reliable, defensible nitrogen rate for their own, individual fields.
Illinois farmers have helped to lay the groundwork for a new era of research and education. The funding provided by NREC helps make substantial progress in farmers’ efforts to minimize environmental impact, optimize harvest yield and maximize nutrient utilization. What’s more, these efforts aren’t dependent upon state or federal funding, but rather on the support of farmers themselves each time they buy nutrients for their fields.
The bottom line is this: Farmers and their families are drinking the same water you’re drinking. In many cases, they’re on the front lines, living closest to their fields. Clean, safe water is just as important to them as it is to you. Their efforts to keep water safe and conserve land helps farmers retain the ‘original conservationist’ title.