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Advancing Conservation Cropping Systems in Illinois

We believe that by replenishing life in the soil, farmers can improve the profitability of their operations while reducing their environmental footprint. In Illinois, we act on this belief by working with farmers, landowners, agricultural and conservation agencies, and organizations to help farmers adopt conservation cropping systems to restore our soil. We believe that all farms – big or small – can do better by the soil.
Conservation Cropping Systems

A conservation cropping system, or CCS, is a suite of practices that work synergistically to replenish soil life and restore the organic matter to agricultural soils. Over time these improvements increase nutrient efficiency and crop yields, reduce sediment and nutrient losses, and make farms more resilient to extreme weather conditions. The practices are tailored specifically to individual farms, based on operations, equipment, crops raised, and the position of the farm in the landscape – soil type, slope, proximity to water.

There are many different types of practices to choose from, but every CCS includes practices to do the following:

  1. Reduce soil disturbance
  2. Keep a living root in the system for as long as possible
  3. Diversify crop rotations and
  4. Keep the soil covered with living or dead (mulch) vegetation at all times

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy estimates that additional conservation practices are needed on over half of the 27 million acres of farmland in Illinois to meet our water quality goals. If you are an Illinois farmer or landowner who is interested in implementing cover crops, you can start your journey by reading about CCS in four common Illinois farming systems (link to CCS) and seeking out more detailed information from your local NRCS or SWCD office.

Fall Covers for Spring Savings: Cover Crop Premium Discount Program

Fall Covers for Spring Savings Resources

Download the factsheet and navigate to the FCSS website

American Farmland Trust is leading a coalition of partners in Illinois to offer a Fall Covers for Spring Savings (FCSS) cover crop premium discount program to farmers who are planting cover crops on acres installed outside of state and federal program incentives (e.g., EQIP, CSP and state cost share). Eligible applicants receive a $5/acre insurance premium discount on the following year’s crop insurance invoice for every acre of cover crop enrolled and accepted in the program.

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) recognizes cover crops as one of the most effective in-field management strategies to stem the loss of both nitrate-nitrogen and total phosphorus from corn-soybean fields, yet less than 6% of Illinois’ cropland is planted to cover crops annually. Meeting the water quality goals of the Illinois NLRS will require 35% to 75% of Illinois’ cropland be protected by cover crops, depending on the suite of conservation practices implemented.

AFT and partners were able to help secure $600,000, or 100,000 acres, for the FCSS program into the IDOA budget. More than 500 farmers applied in 2020, and over 750 applied in 2021, demonstrating the increasing popularity of the FCSS program. Additionally, in both years the total acreage requested was more than double the 50,000 acres funded through the IDOA budget, with an unmet demand of over 180,000 acres in 2021. The main goal of this program is to incentivize more use of cover crop practice across Illinois.

We are advancing conservation cropping through the following projects:

Learn a step-by-step process on implementing cover crops with these recipes