New Beginnings for STAR in Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed and Partner of the Year
STAR, or Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources, is an exciting initiative developed by farmers, for farmers. Farmers deserve recognition for their commitment to land stewardship and soil health. In the 2020 crop year, AFT and the Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed Partnership recognized the immense benefits STAR provides farmers and started promoting it. STAR allows farmers to evaluate their current production system, identify areas for improved management, document their progress, and share their successes.
In our first crop year promoting this program to Macoupin County, a total of 7 individual farmers filled out forms for their fields, bringing the county total to 79 field forms. Since this was our first year of promoting, I wanted to make the field form process as easy and simple as possible for the farmers. I made sure to have a comprehensive answer for all questions and made myself available after hours, which was especially convenient for farmers who work long hours themselves. It was a smooth process, and the farmers were able to easily submit their information to me.
After their forms were reviewed, farmers were encouraged to promote their field practices using a sign. Each sign displays the STAR logo and the 1 to 5 STARs Rating. These large STAR signs are a great way for farmers to display the STAR score earned for their fields—some even make it into a friendly competition with their neighbors. Not only are the signs a point of pride for farmers who are working hard to advance their soil health, but they help to get neighbors a little curious about the program as well. There are a total of 30 signs being displayed in fields across the Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed.
Following the wrap-up of the 2020 STAR year in February, I was notified that I had been awarded the STAR Partner of the Year award for my efforts enrolling new farmers and fields within Macoupin County, Illinois. As with many organizations, COVID-19 allowed AFT to allocate some extra and unused travel funds towards outreach with farmers for the STAR program. My team and I put our heads together and got creative—we installed a billboard, sent out a round of postcards, made personal phone calls, sent email reminders, and anything else we could think of to drum up interest in the program. This is one of the reasons installing signs by fields is so important—it brings out curiosity in neighbors and decreases the amount of time and money spent on outreach, which increases the amount of time that can be spent one-on-one with farmers. I did not begin with the intention of enrolling the most new field forms in the state of Illinois, but I am so grateful to everyone who took part in the program and made its first year in Macoupin County such a success.
With the upcoming rollout of a user-friendly STAR Web App, I hope to reach even more farmers during the 2021 crop year. I also plan to work with farmers who enrolled in the 2020 crop year to explain the STAR Web App and make their enrollments even easier for the 2021 crop year.
Enrollment in the 2021 Crop Year STAR program is available right now! If you are a farmer or landowner located in the Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed and interested in enrolling in the program—contact me and let’s get started. Additionally, anyone can participate, just contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get started today! I look forward to a record-setting number of field forms for the 2021 crop year!