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Vermilion Headwaters Watershed Partnership

Improve soil health and water quality on your farm!

The adoption of a well-managed conservation cropping system leads to improvements in water quality and soil health. If you farm in Livingston and Ford County, Illinois and/or have farmland in the Vermilion Headwaters watershed, there are many technical and financial resources available to help you reduce tillage, increase nutrient efficiency, and implement cover crops.

American Farmland Trust is working with local stakeholders through the Vermilion Headwaters Partnership and can help you identify conservation practices to achieve your soil health and water quality goals.

In January 2022, the AFT Midwest Team graciously accepted a “Partner of Conservation” award from the Livingston County Soil & Water Conservation District! The award recognizes our leadership and our work with farmers to implement practices that reduce nitrogen loss. While we’ve accomplished a lot, there remains a lot of opportunities to get more practices on the ground.

Left to right: Jean Brokish (Midwest Program Manager), Lee Bunting (Livingston SWCD District Chair), and Kris Reynolds (Midwest Director)
How Can Farmers Get Involved and What Are the Benefits?

Farmers in the watershed are encouraged to get involved by adopting conservation practices that improve soil health and economic returns. Financial assistance is available for farmers interested in reducing tillage, increasing the efficient use of nutrients, and adopting cover crops. It pays to be proactive! Through individual action, farmers in the watershed can collectively help improve water quality while maintaining or improving farm profitability.

The adoption of a well-managed conservation cropping system leads to improvements in a farmer’s bottom line by contributing to:

Resources for the Vermilion Headwaters Watershed

The producers, ag professionals, area residents, government and non-profit agencies that comprise the Partnership are working to increase the health of our local soils and streams. Planting cover crops, reducing tillage, and reducing nitrate loss from fields are some of the most efficient management options for increasing soil health while decreasing nutrient and soil loss from fields. Download the below resources so you can maximize on-farm benefits for your operation!

The Vermilion Headwaters Watershed is a 305,426-acre rural watershed encompassing parts of Livingston, Ford, Iroquois, and McLean Counties in Illinois. This 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.

The Vermilion Headwaters Watershed is a partnership of stakeholders, including farmers, community leaders, government agencies, research institutions and non-profit organizations, working to reduce the loss of nitrogen from farmland in the watershed. Farmers adopting conservation cropping systems, which include practices such as reduced tillage, cover crops, nutrient management and tile water treatment, can help protect water quality and improve a farmer’s bottom line.


The Partnership is capitalizing on the energy of the successful Indian Creek sub-watershed project to facilitate a new locally driven watershed project to reduce losses of nitrogen to the Vermilion and Illinois River. The Partnership uses conservation planning models to inform goals and implements strategies that will achieve nutrient reductions at the field and watershed scale.

  1. The Partnership hosts quarterly community meetings to increase awareness of Illinois’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy and promote the adoption of in-field and edge-of-field practices that reduce nitrogen loss.
  2. Farmers are joining together to ask questions, share insights, and achieve conservation goals.
  3. To achieve water quality goals, the Partnership estimates an additional 80,000 acres of conservation cropping systems are needed. Farmers are encouraged to contact the Partnership to get started.
VHW 2021 Field Day


Current Progress

The farmers, government, non-profit agencies, agriculture professionals, and area residents that comprise the Partnership are working to further increase the efficiency of nitrogen management in Ford and Livingston Counties in Illinois. As part of this effort, we are working with our partners to use conservation planning models to inform the development of new watershed goals that outline a clear path toward achieving nutrient reductions at the field and watershed scale. Modeling efforts have been completed for two priority sub-watersheds and we are drafting a voluntary stream monitoring plan that will allow area residents to generate baseline water quality data.

Since 2015, more than $1.7M has been invested in conservation practices in the watershed as an extension of our partnership with the Livingston and Ford County Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. We strive to provide farmers with the technical and financial assistance necessary to improve environmental performance without sacrificing productivity and acknowledge that reduced tillage is an important first step in a conservation cropping system that successfully utilizes cover crops.

Our outreach efforts have highlighted the importance of nutrient management, cover crops, and reduced tillage practices for cost-share assistance.

Need more information?

Connect with one of our AFT staff who is leading this partnership!