March 27, 2023

AFT recognized for work in Vermilion Headwaters Watershed

PONTIAC, Ill. — The American Farmland Trust accepted the Partner of Conservation Award for its work in the Illinois Vermilion Headwaters Watershed.

The award, which was presented at the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District’s 77th annual meeting, recognizes AFT’s leadership for its work with farmers to implement practices that reduce nitrogen loss.

“We are so excited that our work continues to grow with vital partners and trust from farmers,” said AFT Midwest Program Manager Jean Brokish.

“While we’ve accomplished a lot, there remains a lot of opportunities to get more practices on the ground. AFT currently leads the development of a nine-element watershed plan and is in the process of hiring a conservation technician to work one-on-one with farmers in the watershed.”

“It has been great working with AFT on our Vermilion Headwaters Watershed project,” said Rebecca Taylor, Livingston County SWCD resource conservationist.

“They have helped us educate our farmers and landowners in the watershed about conservation practices and have been a vital source for resources for the area. They also helped us receive additional funding for projects in the watershed. We look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.”

Since 2015, AFT has leveraged more than $1.7 million in the Vermilion Headwaters Watershed to increase adoption of cover crops, reduced tillage and nutrient management, reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment going downstream. These practices also improve farmers’ profitability.

An economic case study developed by AFT highlights benefits realized by farmer Jim Ifft.

The Ifft family grows corn and soybeans on 1,800 acres in Livingston County. Their operation uses various soil health practices, like cover crops, to help improve soil structure and water infiltration.

Jim Ifft said he has seen a drastic decrease in erosion on the farm after planting a cover crop and there is noticeably less standing water in the fields compared to the neighbors.

He attributes these improvements, namely increased water infiltration, organic matter content and aggregate stability, to his use of cover crops.

The Vermilion Headwaters Watershed is a 305,426-acre rural watershed encompassing parts of Livingston, Ford, Iroquois and McLean counties in Illinois.

Agriculture is a key economic driver in Livingston County. According to the 2017 Ag Census, the county ranks fifth in the nation for market value of grains, oilseeds, dry beans and peas. Water from those agricultural fields drains to the Illinois River and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.

The Vermilion Headwaters Watershed has been identified as one of the top five non-point source nitrogen loading watersheds in Illinois and is a major contributor to nitrogen loading in the Mississippi River.

A well-managed conservation cropping system can lead to improvements in water quality and soil health. There are technical and financial resources available for to help reduce tillage, increase nutrient efficiency and implement cover crops.

Farmers interested in improving water quality and soil health can learn more by visiting

To read more on AFT’s soil health case studies and farmers like Ifft, visit