Farm Progress Show, Beneath the Surface
With over 550 exhibitors and thousands of attendees across +40 acres, the 2023 Farm Progress Show (FPS) returned to Decatur, Illinois, the largest in the event’s history. The huge equipment, latest technology, and attendance from farmers from all over the globe demonstrated the importance of the agricultural industry on the world stage, an industry that is increasingly focused on soil health, climate resiliency, and regenerative production practices.
American Farmland Trust joined forces with partner organizations to lead conversations on sound farming practices in the Partners in Conservation Tent. A stop at AFT’s table provided information on the value of cover crops, perennial bioenergy crops, smart solar, and climate-smart practices. In years past, the Partners in Conservation tent was the one stop of all the hundreds of tents at FPS to find the discussion of regenerative agriculture practices. Still, that message was shared multiple times and locations at this year’s show. Most notably, climate-smart agriculture took the main stage with a presentation by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The past two seasons have been national record-breaking years for farm income, but a disparity is growing. “There has been a concentration of the farm income… Farms that generate $500k or more in sales represent 150,000 (7.5% of) farms in America… those farms received 89% of the farm income… that means nearly 2 million farmers in the country today shared the other 11%,” informed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack during his presentation at the Farm Progress Show’s main stage. Secretary Vilsack and America’s plan for closing this income disparity for the other 2 million farm families is the growth of climate-smart agriculture. The US is investing $3 billion into +140 programs and initiatives designed to spread farm income more equitably and help farmers realize the important role they play in minimizing the long-term effects of on the environment.
AFT’s Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership (ISAP) had its booth and rainfall simulator under the Commodities Tent, leveraging relationships with Illinois Corn and Soy groups. AFT staff demonstrated the benefits of cover crops with the rainfall simulator. It promoted the fan favorite “Soil Your Undies” Challenge, where one buries a pair of cotton briefs to assess biological activity. Good, healthy soil is full of microbes that break down all the materials except the elastic band. Fields using no or minimum tillage and cover crops are full of life and more rapidly break down the cotton underwear, but more importantly, they improve nutrient cycling, water retention, and increase the soil’s health and productivity.
Continuing the spread of regenerative practices, the Illinois Soybean Association had a demonstration site with several varieties of cover crops growing to help bring more awareness to the wide variety of options farmers have when choosing to enter the cover crop world. While the use of cover crops has grown in past years, less than 6% of the fields in Illinois are adopting the practice. AFT and ADM have teamed up to help grow the number of farmers utilizing cover crops with the re:generations program, paying up to $25 per acre. To spread awareness, ADM hosted a panel discussion at their tent on the main thoroughfare of the tradeshow and invited AFT’s Midwest Deputy Director Jean Brokish and our Conservation Agronomist Torey Colburn to discuss the program’s launch. Together with Jenny Poling, ADM’s Climate Smart Origination Manager, the panel gave information and answered questions on how and why farmers should take advantage of the re:generations incentive program and what the benefits are on and off the farm.
On the final day, the first-ever Sand County Foundation Leopold Conservation Award winner from Illinois was announced on the main stage and recognized the vital work of Dennis and Jackie Frey are pillars of the Hamilton County farming community, having planted more than 20,000 trees, restoring wetlands, and utilizing cover crops and other regenerative practices on their farm. AFT is a national sponsor of the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award.