Celebrating Six Successful Years of Illinois Conservation Cropping Seminars

April Ann Opatik

In late January, American Farmland Trust and partners across Illinois sponsored, for the sixth consecutive year, a series of one-day seminars to provide farmers with the latest information about soil and water conservation practices.

The seminars were held Jan. 22-24, 2019, in Mendota, Springfield, and O’Fallon, Illinois and had over 442 attendees. The series featured presentations on soil health, soil biology, cover crops, conservation best management practices, preventing nutrient losses, and engaging farmers and landowners in soil health.

David Montgomery opened-up the day in Mendota on a fascinating topic—growing a revolution by bringing our soil back to life. David is a MacArthur Fellow, author, and a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. He is an internationally recognized geologist who studies landscape evolution and the effects of geological processes on ecological systems and human societies.

David took the audience on a soil-journey across farms in North American and Africa that were successfully restoring life to the soil. He explained how these farmers adapted their operations and how these changes positively impacted resiliency and profitability. He emphasized the principles of conservation agriculture including, 1) minimal or no disturbances (no-till), 2) permanent ground cover (cover crops), and 3) diverse crop rotations. To learn more about his research visit www.dig2grow.com.

Following David was Ray Archuleta, who discussed how healthy soils create healthy profits. His discussion focused on the principles of creating soil-health through human conceptions. With over 30 years of knowledge, Ray emphasized that soil should be viewed as a living ecosystem with chemical, physical, and biological components. Ray mentioned, “The greatest geological force is life itself. Nature is a self-regulating, self-healing, and self-organizing system.”

Sarah Carlson, Strategic Initiative Director of Practical Farmers of Iowa, followed Ray with an immense amount of knowledge as a trained agronomist growing cover crops. She helps transfer agronomic research about cover crops and small grains through supply chain projects, articles, blogs and presentation materials while working to improve the support for cover crops and small grain research. Her presentation showcased research results from a network of Iowa farmers growing cover crops and explained a practical approach for growing cover crops based on that research. The farmer panel featured local farmers, ending each day on a high-note with questions from the audience on their needs and values.

In addition to the Illinois Department of Agriculture and American Farmland Trust, seminar coordinators include the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Planning has begun for the seventh year of Conservation Cropping seminars in 2020 and the planning committee is excited to keep growing these workshop opportunities.