June 20, 2024

Director touts strength in partnerships

LEXINGTON, Ill. — Finding points of commonality and developing strong partnerships between groups that may not always agree has been a strong suit in the Prairie State’s nutrient loss reduction efforts.

Jerry Costello II, Illinois Department of Agriculture director, touted the benefits of partnerships during a recent Nutrient Stewardship Field Day at the Illinois State University Research Farm, noting how well IDOA and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency work together.

“One thing IEPA Director John Kim and I have in common is the fact that we have incredible staffs,” Costello said.

“I really have to give Trevor Sample (at IEPA) and Michael Woods (at IDOA Division of Natural Resources) credit for everything that they’ve done, for not only their work on the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, but also trying to find new monies for the state by leveraging federal monies.

“When it comes to the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, Trevor and Michael are the experts in IEPA and IDOA.”

He also acknowledged the strong partnership between IDOA and Illinois Farm Bureau.

“Some states aren’t as lucky to have the great partnership that we have,” he added.

“Something specific to nutrient loss reduction strategy that’s not always the case is the fact that it’s something that agriculture and the environmental community agree on and work together on. In this day and age finding points of commonality in scenarios where groups at some point in time have issues, it’s important to find things we can work together on.”

Cover Crop Incentives

Utilizing cover crops to reduce nutrient loss was among the field day topics, and Costello discussed the success of the state’s fall cover crop incentive program that provides a $5 per acre crop insurance discount.

The program was launched in 2019 with a limit of 50,000 acres of fall cover crops, funded with $300,000 earmarked by the General Assembly, and the initiative grew rapidly in popularity.

“In 2021, that went from 50,000 acres to 100,000 acres and it was $600,000. There was also a $5 credit from the federal government that began in 2020, so you would actually get $10 credit per acre for crop insurance,” Costello said.

“It’s something that has caught on to the point of in 2019 it took us 12 days to fill 50,000 acres, in 2020 it took us 12 hours to fill 50,000 acres and in 2020 it took six hours to fill 100,000 acres. We filled the 100,000 acres, but we had 187,000 acres that were applied for.

“We are working with the EPA to try to hopefully leverage some monies down the road, possibly new federal monies, and we’re hoping that comes together. This program has been such a success that the USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Marcia Bunger will be at the Illinois State Fair in August to talk to us about our program and how it’s run in the state versus how it’s been run in other states.”

Ag Census

Costello also noted the importance of completing USDA’s Census of Agriculture.

The ag census is a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Even small plots of land — whether rural or urban — growing fruit, vegetables or some food animals count if $1,000 or more of such products were raised and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.

The census, taken once every five years, looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures.

The census will be mailed in November and the response deadline is February 2023. The data will be released in 2024.

“It’s how we’re counted. It’s how we get and leverage more federal dollars in Illinois. It’s extremely important,” Costello said.

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor