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January 27th, 2022
American Farmland Trust Receives “Partner of Conservation” Award from Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District for its Work in the Vermilion Headwaters Watershed

The Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) held its 77th Annual Meeting on January 20, 2022, at Precision Technology Institute in Pontiac, Illinois.

SPRINGFIELD, IL –   The American Farmland Trust accepted the “Partner of Conservation” award on January 20th, 2022 for its work in the Illinois Vermilion Headwaters Watershed. The award, which was presented at the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District’s 77th annual meeting, recognizes AFT’s leadership for its work with farmers to implement practices that reduce nitrogen loss.

“We are so excited that our work continues to grow with vital partners and trust from farmers,” expresses AFT Midwest Program Manager, Jean Brokish. “While we’ve accomplished a lot, there remains a lot of opportunities to get more practices on the ground. AFT currently leads the development of a nine-element watershed plan and is in the process of hiring a conservation technician to work one-on-one with farmers in the watershed.”

“It has been great working with AFT on our Vermilion Headwaters Watershed project,” states Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District Resource Conservationist, Rebecca Taylor. “They have helped us educate our farmers and landowners in the watershed about conservation practices and have been a vital source for resources for the area. They also helped us receive additional funding for projects in the watershed. We look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.”

Since 2015, AFT has leveraged more than $1.7M in the Vermilion Headwaters Watershed to increase adoption of cover crops, reduced tillage and nutrient management, reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment going downstream. These practices also improve farmer’s profitability.  An economic case study developed by AFT highlights benefits realized by local farmer, Jim Ifft. The Ifft family grows corn and soybeans on 1,800 acres in Livingston County, Illinois. Their operation uses various soil health practices, like cover crops, to help improve soil structure and water infiltration.

Ifft says he has seen a drastic decrease in erosion on the farm after planting a cover crop and there is noticeably less standing water in the fields compared to the neighbors. Jim attributes these improvements, namely increased water infiltration, organic matter content and aggregate stability, to his use of cover crops.

The Vermilion Headwaters Watershed is a 305,426-acre rural watershed encompassing parts of Livingston, Ford, Iroquois and McLean Counties in Illinois. Agriculture is a key economic driver in Livingston County– per the 2017 Ag Census it ranks fifth in the nation for market value of grains, oilseeds, dry beans and peas. Water from those agricultural fields drains to the Illinois River and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico. The Vermilion Headwaters Watershed has been identified as one of the top five non-point source nitrogen loading watersheds in Illinois and is a major contributor to nitrogen loading in the Mississippi River.

A well-managed conservation cropping system can lead to improvements in water quality and soil health. There are technical and financial resources available for to help reduce tillage, increase nutrient efficiency, and implement cover crops.

Left to right: Jean Brokish (Midwest Program Manager), Lee Bunting (Livingston SWCD District Chair), and Kris Reynolds (Midwest Director).

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American Farmland Trust 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. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.