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Sustainable farming practices in Illinois designed to improve water quality also face a financial test.
Through emerging projects like Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, farmers are working to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in their soil to prevent runoff into what will become the potable water supply.
“It’s really been an effort in place since 2015 for our large municipalities and wastewater treatment plants to work alongside agriculture to be able to reduce our nutrient loads into our water that ultimately makes their way to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Lauren Lurkins, director of natural and environmental resources at the Illinois Farm Bureau.
The initiatives not only benefit residents on a local and national scale, but it also helps ensure soil productivity for future growing seasons.
“They need that soil to be productive, and they need to take care of it so they can pass on that business and that entire enterprise to the next generation,” Lurkins said.
Soil nutrient erosion often forces farmers to apply nitrogen and other components, increasing costs that cut into already thin profit margins. Techniques like crop rotation, no-till and cover crops on organic farms are all measures to maintain soil integrity.
In some instances, farmers may have higher costs. However, Lurkins said that the Illinois Farm Bureau looks at the economics of these programs to make it makes sense for their operations.
“But, of course, it does have to do with economics,” she said. “…all that science that we look at, we do have the researchers looking at the economic side of all that as well.”
While Illinois farmers are making an effort, the public can also be involved in the process as well, Lurkins said.
“We all contribute to nitrogen and phosphorous into water either through our publicly-owned treatment or otherwise,” she said. “I think we all play a role and certainly agriculture does play a role and we can also all contribute to the solution.”
Information on the project and tips are available at ilfarmerconserve.com.