Illinois Takes Big Regenerative Agriculture Steps - American Farmland Trust

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June 2nd, 2021
Illinois Takes Big Regenerative Agriculture Steps
Soybeans in cereal rye, a common cover crop in Illinois

Illinois regenerative agriculture took a big step forward this week with the passage of a new state budget that reversed decades of cuts to conservation programs to increase funding for clean water, healthy soils and resilient farms.

This budget includes doubling funding to support cover crop adoption from 50,000 acres to 100,000 acres for the Fall Covers for Spring Savings Cover Crop Premium Discount Program. And 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, or NLRS.

In addition, the Illinois General Assembly also protected the Partners for Conservation Fund for one more year, and ensured that conversations can move forward on how to best provide stable, long-term funding for conservation efforts for the state’s more than 24 million acres of cropland.

“We want to thank the Illinois General Assembly for taking a bold stance and making conservation a priority during a challenging budget year,” expresses Kris Reynolds, AFT’s Midwest Director. “This is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to continuing to work with leaders in the legislature, state agencies, as well as our members and partners to ensure that Illinois can increase protections for at-risk farmland and farmers while also making serious progress on its nutrient loss reduction goals over the next few years.”

For the first time, the state budget includes advancing the goals of the Illinois NLRS as a key funding priority of the state’s conservation programs. With interim goals of achieving 15 percent nitrate-nitrogen and 25 percent total phosphorus reductions in Illinois waterways by 2025, it is crucial that Illinois continue to find new and innovate ways to advance conservation efforts.

The same set of practices that are beneficial for water quality and nutrient loss can also lower emissions and promote carbon sequestration in agricultural soils. In this way, these investments not only promote soil health and water quality, but they also reduce climate risk and promote on-farm resiliency to extreme weather events.

“The potential for Illinois to serve as a global leader when it comes to climate-smart and regenerative agriculture is huge,” says Max Webster, Midwest Policy Manager. “Farmers know it, the science displays it, and stakeholders understand the value of these practices when it comes to healthier soils, cleaner water and less harmful emissions in the atmosphere. It is exciting to see the Illinois General Assembly recognize the value of these programs and increase investment for Illinois farmers and farmland.”

AFT will continue to work with our partners to make sure that these Illinois regenerative farming programs are accessible to farmers and able to leverage additional resources from the federal government and the private sector. We will also promote existing programs, like Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources, the CaRPE tool, the Comet Planner and many other resources to make sure that the benefits of these investments are tracked and quantified in a way that can help policy makers prioritize the most impactful practices going forward.

Take some time to thank our State Policy Leaders for ensuring that critical funding for conservation and sustainable agricultural programs were included in the FY22 budget!

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