CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In just the third year of the program, the number of acres using the Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources initiative tools have quickly grown and expanded into other states.
The S.T.A.R. program officially kicked off in Champaign County in April 2017 to recognize farmers for their nutrient and soil loss management practices. There were 7,500 acres utilizing the program in that initial year.
The initiative recently released its first annual report to demonstrate the agricultural environmental outcomes of the conservation practices and noted there were 83,592 acres among 214 participants across 70 Illinois counties and two counties in Indiana in 2019. In addition, Iowa and Missouri have started to implement the initiative statewide.
The use of no-till and strip-till by S.T.A.R. farmers accounted for 3,374 truckloads of sediment kept out of Illinois waterways, over 15,000 pounds of phosphorus kept in the field and the carbon dioxide equivalent of removing 6,730 passenger cars from the road for a full year.
The use of cover crops by S.T.A.R. farmers accounted for 1,168 truckloads of sediment kept out of Illinois waterways in 2019, over 4,000 pounds of phosphorus kept in the field, over 73,000 pounds of nitrate-nitrogen kept in the field and the carbon dioxide equivalent of removing 1,175 passenger cars from the road for a full year.
Of the 183 fields earning 5 S.T.A.R. ratings, 96% were no-till or strip-till, 93% used a winter hardy cover crop, 87% applied phosphorus and potassium based on soil samples or removal rates and 45% used variable rate technology.
The S.T.A.R. evaluation system assigns points for each cropping, tillage, nutrient application and soil conservation activity used on individual fields. The practices selected and the point values assigned are determined by a group of scientists and researchers, including some farmers who are involved in research.
The Science Committee bases its analysis of recommended practices on the potential contribution to the goals of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategies. The total points are used in a scale to determine a rating of 1 to 5 stars for each individual field.
The benefits of using this free program include: decreased nutrient loss, potential increased net farm income, potential to gain new farms to lease, landowners evaluation of tenants’ contributes to conservation, assistance in securing local conservation costs share when available, assistances to producers in obtaining documentation to support potential water quality issues, and assistance to producers in obtaining potential market premiums for conservation cropping practices.
“The demand for conservation is only rising. There are generations growing up now that expect their food, fiber and fuel to be grown while not harming, even improving, water quality and the larger environment. S.T.A.R. assists farmers in measuring their progress, clearly showing neighbors, consumers and the agriculture industry how they’re making conservation work,” Steve Stierwalt, S.T.A.R. Steering Committee chairman, said in the annual report.