NORMAL, Ill. — The “four Ds” have been transformed into the
“four Rs” with a watershed nutrient management initiative that has drawn
The Indian Creek Watershed Project in Illinois’ southeastern
Livingston County was the focus of a tour that drew about 300 visitors from 20
The project, now in its third year, features on-farm
research with farmers implementing conservation systems to improve water quality
and keeping the nutrients in the fields for the crops’ use.
The tour kicked off one day earlier with a seminar hosted by
the Conservation Technology Information Center and Solutions from the
CTIC is a national public-private partnership that envisions
agriculture using environmentally beneficial and economically viable natural
resource systems and assists with the Indian Creek project.
SfL released a report earlier this year underscoring the
need for land, water and other natural resources to be managed both in an
integrated manner and at the scale necessary for its vision to be realized. The
report spotlighted examples where innovative practices and land management
approaches are taking place, including at Indian Creek.
“There are a number of programs involved, but the programs
are tools. The focus is on the outcome. The focus is on the relationship. It’s
what I think of as a new way of doing business,” Ernie Shea, SfL project
coordinator, said at the seminar.
“When you think back on the origins of the conservation
districts and how we used to work, it’s kind of back to the future. It’s back to
Shea said there are about a dozen examples in the SfL report
where “local leaders have been coming together, working in a different way,
collaborating with government partners, taking risks and providing the
leadership in changing the conversation from the problems of Indian Creek to the
solutions that are coming out of the leadership in the Indian Creek watershed.”
“That’s the beating heart of what this project is about,” he
said. “It’s about changing the conversation. It’s about going on the offense.
“It’s about being valued, being respected, being seen as
something positive as opposed to oftentimes what we’ve done in the past, which
is practice the four Ds — duck, deny, delay or deflect.
“The ag and forestry communities became pretty good at that
over the decade. It was easier to hide. It was easier to point a finger at
somebody else. We’re saying, ‘Enough of that.’ That’s not going to work going
forward if we’re going to lead.”
The Indian Creek project focuses on the four Rs of right
place, right time, right rate and right source and provided an ideal situation
for CTIC to step in and begin facilitating a plan.
CTIC’s effort began with the group’s vision several years
ago “of what we want to do in a watershed and watershed kind of work,” said Chad
Watts, CTIC project director.
That vision resulted in received a 319 program grant from
the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The grants support projects
designed to reduce water pollution through best management practices,
educational projects and, to a limited extent, research and monitoring.
“We had this idea that we could bring social support,
technical support and educational support to a watershed to help improve
nutrient use efficiency,” Watts said.
“The next part of that plan was to develop a partner meeting
with many of the partners from Illinois — Illinois EPA, (Natural Resources
Conservation Service), Soil and Water Conservation districts — to find that
right area that would serve as a good project for this kind of thing.
“Indian Creek was one of those places that sort of rose to
the top for a variety of different factors. One of the reasons was the
Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District was one of the key
elements that make this project a success.
“And they had a good strong partner in Livingston County,
who, with the NRCS, has done a good job of saying, ‘Here’s our vision over the
years,’ and providing technical assistance. We had strong community support for
He added the river also had nitrate levels that were at
times above the acceptable levels.
He said all of these factors made the area an ideal place,
“where we could use the opportunity to work with farmers to increase nutrient
efficiencies with social, economic and educational support.”
“The Indian Creek Project partners include CTIC, Illinois
EPA, Soil and Water Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation
Services and also the member companies that support CTIC all came together to
determine what impact we could have on water quality if we could get over 50
percent of the watershed land and watershed producers to adopt conservation
systems on their farms,” he said.
One of the highlights of the program is the partners brought
a variety of strengths to the planning table.
SWCD, the local steering committee that helps guide the
watershed project, applied for and received a Mississippi River Basin Healthy
Watersheds Initiative grant through NRCS to provide technical and financial
assistance to producers to help implement conservation.
“The goal is to improve water quality, decrease soil erosion
sediment, wildlife and to maintain the small- to medium-size farming operations
in the watershed,” Watts said.
The funding targeted for Indian Creek was provided by USDA’s
Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program.
Those two programs provide opportunities for farmers to receive cost-share
assistance to implement conservation systems on their farms.
“The good thing about this project was so many different
factors came together,” Watts said. “The SWCD and NRCS brought the technical
expertise and part of the funding for implementation of conservation.
“CTIC brought some watershed experience from other places,
some facilitation experience involving member companies that helped provide
products and technologies. The Illinois EPA and USDA provide support for water
“So we have a lot of different groups, agencies and
organizations that came at this from a different angle and provide different
pieces of the puzzle to make it a successful project.
“Another key to this project was the formation of a local
watershed steering committee comprised of many local residents, farmers and
local politicians. The SWCD’s relationship with landowners helped to ask folks
to be a part of that through personal invitations.”
He pointed out factors that have been critical to the
success of the Indian Creek project.
“No. 1, we have producers in the watershed who are
interested in learning different ways. They’re not averse to changing their way
of doing things if they find something better. They’re willing to do that
exploration to learn what that is,” he said.
“Some of the producers in the watershed sort of do their own
nutrient efficiency trials outside of what CTIC promotes, so there’s all that
kind of innovation and research happening. The other thing is the local support.
“The SWCD and NRSC there have at great rapport with
landowners. Terry (Bachtold, SWCD ag resource coordinator) is a prime example of
a guy who does a fantastic job of engaging with landowners and working with him.
“They trust him, and he’s brought a lot of business into
that office through that watershed project for that very reason.
“Those are two keys if you’re looking at exporting that kind
of information of a strong local partner that stays true to the mission of
providing technical assistance and provides those opportunities for farmers to
“There is also the desire of farmers to maintain their
farms, do a better job and to learn.”