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IL Farmers Focus on Soil Health to Fight Climate Change Impacts

Soil conservation practices can help soybeans and other crops become more resilient to extreme weather. (USDA/Flickr)
Soil conservation practices can help soybeans and other crops become more resilient to extreme weather. (USDA/Flickr)
May 20, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Amid the challenges of another rain-soaked spring and a global pandemic, hundreds of Illinois farmers are using conservation practices to help curb the long-term effects of climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Illinois Climate Summary projects multiple threats to agriculture: more precipitation in winter and spring over the next few decades, more frequent floods and more intense summer droughts.

At Rademacher Farms in Gifford, Frank Rademacher said they're trying to buffer some of those impacts through the use of soil-conservation practices such as no-tillage and cover crops.

"We can take a lot of water really fast -- so those big rains, we can absorb a lot of that," he said. "We've got all kinds of residue, so we're able to drive over that and distribute some of the weight a little better. And then, we've got soil structure; even if the soil's wet, we're able to plant into it a little sooner than we would otherwise."

He said healthy soil is not only more resilient, but it's crucial for clean water, capturing carbon and improving farm productivity.

Larry Clemens is Indiana state director for The Nature Conservancy, which is working with Illinois farmers on soil health. While there's been a steady increase in farms using these practices, he said, more is needed.

"We simply need to scale up adoption of those practices and continue to help farmers overcome the barriers that are preventing them from adopting the practices that are at large scale," he said.

Rademacher Farms is among more than 200 statewide in the "STAR" program. Megan Baskerville, Illinois director of agriculture for The Nature Conservancy, said that by using the program's STAR tool, landowners can track and evaluate the soil and water from their crop production.

"We've really seen farmers appreciate that tool, as well as the fact that it's tied to a lot of the science behind our nutrient loss-reduction strategy," she said. "They know every time they improve a STAR rating, they're also improving their water-quality outcomes."

She said The Nature Conservancy in Illinois also is researching the changes rural farmers are expected to face in the coming decades as a result of the changing climate.

The climate summary is online at statesummaries.ncics.org.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy - Midwest Region contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Sustainable Agriculture and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL