A Year of Celebration and Scouting the Year Ahead
The season of winter is upon us with blustery winds and frost-tipped corn residue. I have been farming on my land in Illinois for over 20 years and utilizing cover crops for eight of those years. Most of us in the Midwest have finished harvesting the last of our crops and seeding winter cover crops. I know first-hand the beneficial effects cover crops have on my soil and for my crops. Cover crops can be one of the best components for creating resilient farms and landscapes.
Cover crops can protect water quality, improve soil health, and have the potential to mitigate climate change. Beyond cover crops, there are many other ways to improve one’s soil health. Exploring other conservation practices, like no-till or buffer strips, to implement on my land takes a lot of strategizing, learning, and sometimes takes multiple tries to finally get the right result. Just like I search for ways to improve my own farming operation, I’ve been hard at work with my AFT team examining and improving the work we do.
The year 2022 is upon us and I am reflecting on all the amazing results from the Midwest regional team this past year. We had a lot of strategizing, examining, learning, but with a whole lot of accomplishments which makes me very proud to be both a leader and member of this team.
New AFT Midwest staff members
Trained farmers, landowners, and professionals
New AFT Midwest members
- We added a new Midwest Farmland Protection Manager to help build farmland protection programs in the Midwest and a new Midwest Policy Manager to help elevate critical needs for agriculture funding in Illinois and other Midwest states.
Training and Education
- Our team trained more than 2,100 farmers, landowners, and professionals on topics ranging from carbon farming strategies to improving water quality in the Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed.
- The Midwest Science Director worked hard and released AFT’s Combating Climate Change on US Cropland Report.
- We worked with more than 50 women landowners through various programs and AFT’s Women for the Land initiative.
- The AFT Midwest team worked with key partners in releasing the first-ever Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership annual report.
- The Midwest team worked with Saving Tomorrows Agricultural Resources (STAR) to release its second annual STAR report.
- We leveraged over $7 million in partner contributions for an additional $7 million in federal funding to accelerate farmland protection in Wisconsin.
- We secured two grants from new funding sources to encourage the development of local Purchase of Development Rights programs by Midwestern towns and counties, and a third contract through the National Agricultural Land Network that aims to quantify the economic value of ecosystem services on protected farmland.
- In the Midwest, we released 5 press releases, had 50 media hits, diversified staff voices in 17 blogs, and distributed 25 emails to our growing members and supporters.
- Nearly 3,000 new Midwest members joined AFT’s mission to help protect farmland, support sound farming practices, and keep farmers on the land.
- We elevated key champion farmer voices in the farming community.
- AFT Midwest team had over 100 individuals join us in advancing key policy agendas.
- We established our first ever policy priority roadmap which includes efforts to expand the adoption of cover crops, prioritize climate action, support conservation partners, and protect at-risk land.
One particularly proud moment this year came when the Illinois Legislature approved a budget increase in support for cover crop adoption from 50,000 acres to 100,000 acres for the Fall Covers for Spring Savings Cover Crop Premium Discount program. The budget also included doubling funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts and dedicating $3.5 million in new funding for advancing the goals of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.
The Midwest team is riding a new wave of growth, driven by agriculture’s most pressing needs and opportunities. AFT is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. I am excited for our team to start evolving into more aspects of AFT’s mission beyond promoting sound farming practices. Our new wave of growth in the Midwest will start encompassing smart solar siting on the landscape, crop diversification, building relationships with key individuals to enhance our work, and opportunities for our supporters to engage in grassroots advocacy.
I live and breathe my work—and I hope that through my work I can help educate and aid our Illinois and Midwest farmers. There will always be ways in which we can strategize, examine, and learn, and I know our team is up to the challenge. I can’t wait for this year of 2022 to be the best one yet! Thank you to all our supporters, members, and to our hard-working farmers and ranchers.