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S.T.A.R. Releases Inaugural Annual Report: Demonstrating Environmental Outcomes of Agriculture

AFT’s Midwest team has been working with the S.T.A.R. program since 2016 when it was first introduced by the Champaign County SWCD in Illinois and is excited to have played an instrumental role in producing S.T.A.R.’s first Annual Report for the 2019 crop year. S.T.A.R., Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources, was designed to encourage farmers to implement new management practices on a field-by-field basis and provide a mechanism for measuring their progress along the way. The report provides an overview of S.T.A.R., documenting its expansion and impact and aggregating the benefits of in-field practices into metrics that are useful to a diversity of audiences.

“On behalf of the S.T.A.R. steering committee, we’re excited to bring you the annual report for S.T.A.R.’s 2019 Crop Year (beginning after harvest in 2018 and running through harvest of 2019). Join us as we look back on the Initiative’s growth and impact on Illinois and beyond over the past year.”

– Steve Stierwalt, S.T.A.R. Steering Committee Chairman

S.T.A.R. is a free tool that provides farm operators and landowners a means to evaluate, measure, and increase their use of conservation practices based on locally identified resource concerns. The goal of the program is not only to evaluate the use of conservation practices but also to educate participants about the benefits of additional management changes and encourage improvement. S.T.A.R. uses a simple field form to request information concerning field management and conservation practices, assign points to each practice, and provide a S.T.A.R. rating ranging from one to five stars.

The 2019 Crop Year was accompanied by one of the latest planting seasons on record in Illinois, with many farmers not able to get into their fields at all. The challenges posed by the unusually wet planting season of 2019 highlight the urgent need to enhance the resiliency of our agricultural systems through improved soil function. Farmers who are interested in starting the journey to building healthier, more productive soils benefit from having a long-term plan that outlines clear expectations of the steps involved in the process.

The S.T.A.R. field form underwent substantial revisions in 2019, assigning more points to practices with higher nutrient and sediment reduction efficiencies than practices with lower or unknown efficiencies. While the S.T.AR. Initiative is practice-based, allowing farmers flexibility in choosing their path to conservation success, the 2019 Annual Report summarizes individual practices reported from S.T.A.R. fields and translates this data into environmental impacts. In 2019, over 200 farmers used the tool on over 80,000 acres. Outside of Illinois, organizations in Iowa and Missouri also plan to offer the tool. Farmers interested in enrolling their acres are encouraged to fill out a 2020 Field Form.

Report highlights for the use of no-till and strip-till by S.T.A.R. farmers:

0

Truckloads of sediment kept out of Illinois waterways

0

Pounds of phosphorus kept in the field

0

Passenger cars from the road for a full year

About the Author
Emily Bruner, PhD

Midwest Science Director

ebruner@farmland.org

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