CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The S.T.A.R. initiative (Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources) is excited to announce open enrollment for farmers for the 2020 crop year. As summer settles in and crops are growing throughout the Midwest, it’s time for farmers and landowners to reap the results of investing in conservation practices on their fields. Participating is free, and as simple as completing a field form at the S.T.A.R. website: https://starfreetool.com. Paper field forms are also available for download from the site. 2020 field forms will be available through next January.
If S.T.A.R. participants are interested in getting field forms locally, several county SWCDs or Farm Bureaus serve as local administrators of the program.
S.T.A.R. is an innovative conservation program in Illinois and several other states that helps farmers and landowners track how well they are caring for soil and water while producing their crops, via the free, handy S.T.A.R. field evaluation tool. The initiative touts several key benefits: decreasing nutrient loss from the soil, improving water quality, helping farmers show their stewardship, increasing farm resilience, and positioning farms for future market opportunities.
S.T.A.R. was created by the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) in 2017 to meet agricultural goals in the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy plan. That plan, developed by the state’s Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, lays out a comprehensive suite of best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants, urban, and agricultural runoff. Similar strategies have been developed by 11 other states in the Mississippi River Basin since 2015.
“We created S.T.A.R. to show farmers how easy it can be to prevent runoff, protect our water supplies, and promote soil health. And every year, we see more participants eager to invest in a stronger future with the S.T.A.R. tool,” said Bruce Henrikson, S.T.A.R. Program Coordinator through CCSWCD. “We will continue to show more farmers and landowners that the time and effort to promote sustainable practices produces great returns on their investment, and necessary protections for the health of our soil and water, and our nation.”
S.T.A.R. has been well-received in its short lifetime. In 2019, 214 participants on 1,175 fields and 83,592 acres embraced the power of S.T.A.R., and organizations in Iowa and Missouri plan to offer the tool as well.
S.T.A.R. participants complete a field form which assigns points for everything from cover crops used, to the kinds of fertilizer used for nutrient management at different points before and during the growing season, to various possible conservation practices used on that field to prevent runoff into nearby water sources.
S.T.A.R. uses a science committee of industry experts, university researchers and farmers to ensure the field forms accurately represent nutrient loss reduction and how those effect the natural resources of the state. Fields are then ranked on the 5-star scale, and participants can receive a free sign for their fields to identify their S.T.A.R. designation.
— The Nature Conservancy
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