BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The collective efforts of many local government and state agencies, area farmers and a network of organizational stakeholders to reduce nutrient loss in Illinois waterways and further downstream have been highlighted in an updated state water quality report.
Last week, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) released the 2021 Biennial Report on the implementation of the 2015 Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS). The Illinois NLRS is a framework for using science, technology and industry experience to assess and reduce nutrient loss. The report tracks efforts underway throughout the state to reduce these nutrients in Illinois waterways.
“Since these efforts began in 2015, stakeholders across the state have partnered in incredible ways to further progress on activities within agriculture, point sources and urban stormwater that reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality,” said Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm Bureau director of environmental policy. “This is the third public release of information of that sustained group effort. One of our biggest takeaways is that these efforts gained strength despite historic rainfall in 2019 and a global pandemic in 2020.”
Illinois Farm Bureau has invested over $2.3 million since 2015 to implement the NLRS. That includes a focus on education and outreach, supporting research, supporting implementation and demonstrating progress.
“One of the most exciting parts of working directly with the Illinois Farm Bureau membership is watching these nutrient stewardship ideas progressively get stronger and cross county lines,” said Lurkins. “I think that’s also a testament to the farmers – to the men and women growing our food and protecting our natural resources – that they do not give up. They continue to take another run at it, from slightly different angles as needed, and continue to spread the word.”
Specific highlights taken from the third biennial report of strategy implementation include:
- Between 2019 and 2020, agriculture sector partners reported spending almost $27 million implementing the strategy, outside of state and federal cost-share program funds.
- The Nutrient Research Education Council, a public-private partnership that ensures a sustainable source of funding for nutrient research and education programs, invested $6.9 million in 59 projects between 2019 and 2020.
- During 2019 and 2020, more than 1,020 outreach events focused on nutrient loss reached over 72,000 attendees.
- Responses to the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy survey showed 43 percent of farmers reported being somewhat to very knowledgeable about the strategy, and 66 percent of farmers reported being somewhat to very knowledgeable about cover crops.
- 1.4 million acres of cover crops were planted in 2019, representing a 135 percent increase from 2011.
- Farmers reported that 11.2 million acres of cropland received reduced phosphorus fertilizer application rates in 2019 compared to 2011.
Illinois Farm Bureau has a seven-year track record showcasing efforts in 100 projects with more than 70 counties. In 2021, Illinois Farm Bureau committed over $150,000 through its Nutrient Stewardship Grant program, working with 28 counties on 21 projects throughout the state.
The program has again pledged $150,000 to the Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program in 2022, along with an additional $25,000 to initiate a Pollinator Conservation Grant Program as part of a newly formed collection of IFB Environmental Stewardship Grant Programs. These pools of grant funding are meant to support farmer-led projects that allow members to lead the direction and outcomes.
The Illinois NLRS was developed by IEPA, IDOA, the University of Illinois and a multi-stakeholder Policy Working Group of partners such as federal and state agencies, agricultural organizations, wastewater treatment agencies, non-governmental organizations and industries.
The strategy set a 2025 target of a 25 percent reduction in phosphorus and a 15 percent reduction in nitrates leaving the state via Illinois’ major rivers. The ultimate target, as recommended by the U.S. EPA, is a 45 percent reduction in both phosphorus and nitrates and the estimated cost to achieve this target is up to $800 million per year.
“Above all, we have to continue the work,” said Lurkins. “This is a complicated environmental issue across our country, and especially here in the Midwest. We are collaborating across sectors as we continue to learn and implement practices that reduce our nitrate and phosphorus losses. There’s always more room to go, but what we do know is that we must continue to implement the practices on the ground. Providing resources, being on the ground and telling that story is what Illinois Farm Bureau is committed to do.”
The full 2021 Biennial Report is available here. The next NLRS Biennial Report will be released in 2023.
— Illinois Farm Bureau
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