BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Receiving the Illinois Corn Growers Association’s Mike Plumer Environmental Award was extra special for honorees Richard Lyons and Ivan Dozier having known and worked with Plumer for many years.
Plumer was a pioneer in the no-till farming movement and cover crop management of farm acres.
He was committed to preservation of the soil, but approached his work with farmers in a quiet, gentle way that understood their family business and way of life.
The longtime University of Illinois Extension educator, among numerous other roles, died Dec. 25, 2017.
“He was my go-to guy.”— Richard Lyons, recipient, Mike Plumer Environmental Award
Lyons initially met Plumer at a workshop for community college agriculture instructors at Rend Lake Community College during the 1990s. Plumer was presenting a program on the use of cover crops, and Lyons was teaching at Lincoln Land Community College.
The event piqued Lyons’ interest in cover crops and he had extended conversations with Plumer during that first meeting.
“It’s humbling because I respected him so much,” Lyons said of receiving the award with Plumer’s name.
“He changed my perspective of what to do for cover crops. I started actually cover crops myself in the fall of 2012 on 40 acres in front of corn and 40 acres in front of soybeans. The next year was 80 and 80, and the next year the farm was covered 100%.
“He was really interested that I was so interested in trying it our on my own farm, and that’s what is so humbling for me.”
The Lyons family farm is about four miles north of Raymond, where he shifted to no-till corn in the late 1970s.
Lyons continued to operate the farm throughout his long teaching career at Lincoln Land and then Illinois State University.
“Mike really changed things on our farm when we started to use cover crops. The no-till helped the biologicals as far as preserving the soil and that type of thing, but there wasn’t much moved in organic matter. My organic matter started to improve since I started using cover crops because I use covers that are year-round,” Lyons said.
“I don’t just use cereal rye on soybeans and then radishes and oats that die. I use barley, Austrian winter pea, along with radishes and rapeseed. That then gives me three different types of plants — grass, brassica and legume. These were the things that Mike promoted.
“It was just really special when they called me to tell me I was receiving the award. I thought so much of Mike. He changed the way I farm.
“He was my go-to guy. This is just a humbling experience. You admire a person and then you get the honor.”
Plumer and Lyons also worked together through the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices. Plumer was the CBMP’s state cover crops specialist.
“Mike called me and said there was a need for a cover crop specialist to serve the southern 42 counties of Illinois,” Lyons said.
“Ultimately after one year I realized I couldn’t cover 42 counties and at that time we were suffering from some financial difficulty in our local Soil and Water Conservation District because of the state reimbursement and I got Kris Reynolds, our local resource conservationist, to work with me and we split the counties.
“The CBMP paid for Kris’s time when he was working for us and that helped the Soil and Water Conservation District.
“During that time Mike and I had a chance to spend a lot of time together. We did programs across southern Illinois. We had cover crop plots at the Farm Progress Show.”
Dozier, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s state conservationist for Illinois, nears his 40th year advocating for soil conservation.
“It’s such an important award when you know who it was named after and when you’ve worked with those individuals and you have so much respect for them during that time when they were working,” Dozier said. “Just to be in that category was pretty awesome to me.”
Plumer served as an ex-officio member of the ICGA board from 1991 to 2010. Even after his retirement, he continued to work with the ICGA helping farmers understand and implement conservation practices until his death.
Dozier reflected on his work not only with Plumer, but also the relationship with the organization that honored him.
“(ICGA) had their 50th anniversary and here I’m talking about coming up on 40 years, so we’ve kind of come up together. The organization is such an advocate for agriculture, but they also understand, and I’ve learned this in working with them over the years, is how important conservation is to maintaining that business of agriculture,” Dozier said.
“So, they keep that balance. Everybody just hears about the things they do at Illinois Corn, mostly with marketing, but they don’t realize everything else that they’re involved with, the conservation aspect of it, the reduced tillage, cover crops and nutrient management.”
What’s Old Is New
Atrazine is back in the news as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering tighter regulations, and Dozier recalled his earlier work with ICGA.
“When I was a district conservationist in Macoupin County, the atrazine thing came up. We worked together there in the Otter Lake Watershed and we were the first organization to get a variance from the restrictions on agriculture because of the things we were doing, working on a plan with farm organizations, farmers, conservationists, environmentalist groups,” Dozier said.
“And, by the way, not only did we get the plan done, but we got those numbers down. It took the whole group to do it, but we got the numbers down and the Illinois Corn Growers were a large part of that effort, as well.
“It’s kind of a shame to see the atrazine problem coming back up, but it’s coming back up for many of the same reasons why it came up the first time. We’re much better at detecting, they kind of changed some of the formulas, lowered the numbers and then here we go again, but I am confident that we’ll find a way.
“We understand how these products work in the environment and once you understand how they work in the environment, you understand that pathway for the loss much like nutrients and then we find those ways to interrupt and reduce those losses.”