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IFB President: Farmers invest in sustainable agriculture throughout the year

Illinois farmer Richard Guebert Jr. checks the winter wheat crop in his Randolph County field. Farmers evaluate the condition of their crops and soil health throughout the year to understand what nutrients, fertilizers and other applications are needed for plants to grow. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)


Illinois Farm Bureau President

Each spring people around the world celebrate our planet, recognizing the need to find innovative solutions to protect our soil and water for generations to come.

Farmers, often called the “original conservationists,” continue the fight for cleaner, more sustainable agricultural practices throughout the year. We care deeply for our land and collaborate with our agricultural research partners to implement the best solutions to preserve our natural resources.

We invest time, money, and energy in protecting our land. We are investing in our future.

Our farmers utilize a variety of sustainable practices. One strategy that has gained momentum in recent years is the use of cover crops, or plants such as wheat, rye, and radishes which are planted after  primary cash crops like corn and soybeans are harvested. These special crops work hard to enrich the soil, maintain moisture, and prevent erosion among other benefits.

In February, University of Illinois researchers released a new study showing that Midwestern farmers are seeding more cover crops than ever. The study showed that cover crop adoption reached 7.2% in 2021, up from 1.8% a decade earlier. Researchers stated that the rapid increase in cover crop adoption between 2017 and 2021 coincided with increased state and federal incentive programs.

The U of I study, “Recent rapid increase of cover crop adoption across the U.S. Midwest detected by fusing multi-source satellite data,” was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Farmers also work hard to voluntarily implement the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) to reduce nutrient loss to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, Illinois Farm Bureau’s (IFB) environmental team joined forces with farmers and agricultural researchers to film a new documentary highlighting sustainability efforts in Illinois.

The hour-long film “Sustaining Our Future: A Farm Family Story,” celebrates farmers’ dedication to the environment while sharing with a broader consumer audience the trials, and in some cases, the financial risks farmers take to conserve our natural resources.

Viewers are invited to join the Ganschow family of Bureau County to learn how three generations of farmers have approached sustainability to create a brighter future for generations to come. People can now watch the documentary for free on IFB’s YouTube channel.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

This April, Illinois farmers and the agricultural research community are collaborating to showcase current and past conservation practices, including ongoing cover crop projects. These Spring Nutrient Stewardship Field days are an opportunity for those inside and outside of agriculture to learn more about farmers’ role in protecting the environment.

Now in its eighth year, IFB’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program supports research conservation projects across the state. Our organization has committed more than $2.8 million to nutrient stewardship initiatives since 2015. For the fiscal year 2023, IFB distributed $175,000 in grants for local projects, including $25,000 to support pollinator conservation across the state.

It is fitting that this year Illinois farmers will host two field day opportunities ahead of Earth Day. In Washington County, farmers will evaluate nutrient loss reduction practices in addition to evaluating cover crop projects. Young farmers in Knox County will also invite researchers and farmers to learn more about their goal to implement one cover crop plot in each township within the county.

Farmers are at the forefront of climate-smart farming, putting scientific solutions, technology, and innovation to work to protect our land, air, and water. Every year is a learning curve, however.

We are constantly building upon previous research to develop better, more sustainable practices and strategies to protect our land. It is important to also keep in mind this is a long-haul effort. Each year, our farmers find new ways to approach conservation and sustainability, moving the needle ever closer to a brighter, greener future.

I am proud of the work Illinois farmers are doing and will continue to do to preserve our natural resources. While the world celebrates our planet on April 22, I challenge everyone to learn more about how their local farmers are committing themselves to finding innovative solutions to protect our land.


This op-ed was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit

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