October 16, 2021

Conservation winner in state budget

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The recently-passed fiscal year 2022 budget featured new and increased support for conservation programs and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

The Illinois House approved the budget 72-44-1 with only Democrats voting in favor. The Senate voted 37-21 in favor of the fiscal year blueprint with all Republicans and three Democrats opposing. It now heads to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

Highlights

• Funding was more than doubled for the cover crop insurance premium discount program from $300,000 to $660,000. The move increases from 50,000 acres the first two years of the program to 100,000 acres. IDOA’s Fall Covers for Spring Savings Program was filled quickly the last two years. The current discount program opened the application period Dec. 15, 2020, and saw the 50,000-acre limit met within the first 24 hours. There were 768 applications requesting over 185,000 acres. In the program’s inaugural year, the 50,000-acre allotment filled within 10 days with over 500 applications requesting over 133,000 acres of cover crops.

• Legislators increased Soil and Water Conservation Districts funding for operations by $4 million to $8.5 billion after several years of no increases.

• The fiscal year 2022 budget created a new funding source for the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy with a $3.5 million line item. Most of the funding in the past was provided through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency District 5. The Nutrient Loss Reduction funding creates the Illinois Partners for Nutrient Loss Reduction Act. It provides financial support in the Partners for Conservation Fund and Partners for Conservation Projects Fund that may be used to implement the state’s NLRS. The NLRS bill states the comptroller will automatically transfer money from General Revenue Fund to the Partners of Conservation Fund through June 30, 2027. Funding from the Partners of Conservation Fund will be provided to the Illinois EPA, IDOA and the Department of Natural Resources annually in specific amounts and for specified uses.

• General Revenue Fund allocations to IDOA also were increased after several years of stagnation. The enacted budget pencils in $18.18 million for IDOA. The previous year’s state appropriation was $17.82 million and fiscal year 2020 expenditures were $14.519 million. The remaining IDOA line items in the budget were either increased slightly or unchanged.

“If you would have asked me at the end of December, first of January I would have said this budget is not going to be fun. We were talking about trying to have to defend the ag sales tax exemption and then we got some rosier news that the state tax revenue had gone up and then federal funds had increased. So, we actually saw increases in programs,” said Kevin Johnson, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association interim president.

Johnson commented on the “good news” from the new budget.

On Cover Crops

“When the Department of Agriculture had put that out a couple of years ago funding went super quick and now they’re going to double that. That money will probably get used up pretty quickly.

“Cover crops are definitely part of the solution to the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. It’s one tool in the toolbox that we all have to do to keep this going. We’re glad to see that. We thought there would be some increases, but we didn’t know how much at the end of the day, but it’s a nice surprise.”

On SWCD

“Our friends at Soil and Water Districts got a big bump. They had been at level funding for a lot of years. I didn’t know if I would see it come to fruition, but I’m glad they got what they needed because they have been a good working partner with us on a lot of the water quality issues.”

On NLRS

“The Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy now has dedicated funding for the first time. Most of the funding in the past has been through U.S. EPA District 5. There has been money through Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Ag, but most of the funding to keep this going was through U.S. EPA District 5.

“We knew that wasn’t always going to last and some of the commodity groups and IFCA worked with some of the environmental groups. We had a good coalition to look for long-term funding for this.

“This is a line item in the budget for $3.5 million and we’re going to have to come back every year and defend that money that’s for the strategy, but at least we do have some money coming into the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy to keep the program running. It is a shared venture between Illinois EPA and IDOA just as the whole NLRS program has been.

“The ‘T by 2000’ program (another name given to the original Illinois Erosion and Sediment Control law passed in April 1980) still had a line item in the budget and was updated as the Illinois Partners for Nutrient Loss Reduction Act created through the new funding for the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.

“The idea was to keep this moving because we had to have some kind of funds to keep this. We just knew the Illinois EPA and IDOA were not going to have the funds long-term. As we all know, that no new money is going to come into the General Revenue Fund for something, but can we keep working on this issue. Other states have put money into their similar programs, but with the constraints with the Illinois budget how can we keep this project moving past 2025.

“IFCA, commodity groups and environmental groups have been working on this. We had great partnerships the whole way through this.”

Tom Doran

Tom Doran

Field Editor