MANHATTAN, Ill. — Sustainability looks different on many farms.

“If you drive around Illinois, farm country looks very different from northern to southern Illinois and from eastern to western Illinois,” said Lyndsey Ramsey, Illinois Farm Bureau, associate director natural and environmental resources.

Ramsey, who spoke to the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network group during a visit to Dave Kestel’s farm, is one of two environmental people on staff at the Illinois Farm Bureau. “We are the only state farm bureau in the country that has that,” she added.

In addition to working on policy and regulations, Ramsey also explains environmental rules and regulations to farmers. “I get to educate them about new environmental issues, but mostly I’m learning from them, too,” said the associate director, who is originally from Oklahoma.

One of the projects is the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. “This is a basin-wide effort by 12 states in the Mississippi River basin that have developed voluntary strategies to reduce nutrient losses from point sources and non-point sources,” Ramsey explained to the group. “We’ve been developing programs so we can get more resources in the hands of our farmers to do things to improve the environment.”

With the Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program, the IFB is putting money into the countryside so farmers can develop ideas that might work in their local area, “It has been widely successful,” she said. “These locally-led projects have also involved Extension people and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts.”

The Farm Bureau is working with Growmark on the 4R approach which means using the right source of nutrients, at the right time, at the right rate and in the right place, Ramsey said.

“There are also practices farmers can do at the edge of the field like constructed wetlands, saturated buffers or woodchip bioreactors,” she said.

“The woodchip bioreactor sounds weird but it is a big pit filled with woodchips and the water is routed through it,” Ramsey explained. “You get microbial action of the woodchips that eat the nitrogen so the water leaves the field cleaner than when it got to the woodchips.”

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University are working with the farmers to evaluate the woodchip bioreactors. “We want to figure out the best way to install them,” she said. “What is interesting about the edge-of-field practices is they don’t benefit the farmer who installs them, but it benefits their neighbors downstream.”

Butterfly Flyway

The importance of pollinators has been a focus of the farm bureau for many years. “Illinois is in the middle of the flyway of the monarch butterfly,” Ramsey reported. “Illinois has committed to adding 150 million stems of milkweed to the landscape in the next 20 years.”

A lot of work to establish pollinator habitat has already occurred in Illinois. “Illinois is No. 2 in pollinator habitat set aside on farms in the country so it’s not as if pollinators have no where to go,” she said.

The IFB has developed a website at: www.ilfarmersconserve.com, to provide information about what Illinois farmers are doing on their farms.

“You don’t have to go very far in our membership to find guys that are doing really cool things for the environment,” Ramsey stated. “So you’ll learn about new practices they’re trying or things their grandpa or dad did that either worked or didn’t work and how that education happens over generations.”

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or marthablum@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.

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