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Taking Meaningful Steps Forward

 

In 2021, the Illinois General Assembly took big steps towards expanding regenerative agriculture in the state. Thanks in large part to AFT members, supporters, and partners reaching out to their legislators, long-running funding cuts were reversed. Programs that support farmers who adopt conservation practices, like Fall Covers for Spring Savings, and funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts doubled in size.

These actions have big impacts in a state like Illinois where on-farm conservation can play a huge role in not just reducing the impacts of climate change but also protecting clean water and safeguarding farmers’ bottom-lines.

The Midwest team is riding a new wave of growth, driven by agriculture’s most pressing needs and opportunities. For this new year in 2022, we need your help to keep the movement going in the right direction.

These gains are at risk during the upcoming legislative session. Once again, farmers and conservation organizations need the Illinois General Assembly to extend and fully fund the Partners for Conservation program, Fall Covers for Spring Savings, and leverage funding support for Soil and Water Conservation Districts. These big outcomes are set to expire at the end of June if we don’t act.

If these programs are allowed to lapse, that will mean less funding for farmers to adopt cover crops, opportunities to improve erosion control, improve water quality. It also means less support for our partners working hard to get conservation practices on the ground and provide technical assistance. If we come up short in securing these resources for the long-term, we will also limit the ability of the state to successfully leverage federal funding through programs like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

These cuts would result in Illinois falling even further behind peer states in adopting regenerative practices while stalling on its progress towards reaching its’ nutrient loss reduction goals.

We are asking the Illinois General Assembly to take meaningful steps forward towards building sustainable solutions to the state’s funding challenges to protect farm viability, healthy soils, and clean water.

We will be supporting actions by the Illinois General Assembly which:

  • Secure sustainable funding solutions—Partners for Conservation and Fall Covers for Spring savings are currently appropriated on a year-to-year basis. These programs need a 10-year extension to provide certainty and reliability so that farmers and conservation professionals can plan activities knowing that the resources they need are there.
  • Establish local goals and assess local needs—Illinois has goals to protect soil heath and clean water through the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. However, these goals are statewide, and it can be a challenge for farmers and conservation planners to know how to make progress at the local scale. The Illinois General Assembly must provide guidance to the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Soil and Water Conservation Districts so that they can assess local needs and establish technically feasible and cost-effective solutions that make progress towards nutrient loss goals.
  • Integrate climate planning—Currently, climate impacts are not considered as a guiding criteria for the state’s water quality and soil health programs. This means that dollars are not being prioritized for practices which do the most to promote resilience and reduce climate threats. Illinois must recognize the essential role of climate-smart agriculture: It needs to be a healthy and safe future for the state and update programs to reflect the current climate science.
  • Expand technical assistance and capacity—Funding cuts to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and extension services have hampered the ability of farmers to find technical assistance to get enrolled in conservation programs. This vital capacity needs to be restored to meet farmers where they are and facilitate access to resources where they are most needed.

AFT is currently working with our partners to put together legislative proposals which support these goals. The Illinois General Assembly must continue to build on the foundation it established last year and find long-term solutions to challenges which have persistently kept financial aid and technical assistance from getting to farmers in Illinois.

More than ever, we need support from our members to contact their legislators and let them know that sustainable solutions to safeguard Illinois’ farms while protecting healthy soils, clean water, and a stable climate are here and are available—we just need to act on them.

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About the Author
Max Webster

Midwest Policy Manager

mwebster@farmland.org

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