MILAN, Ill. — When it comes to showing the benefits of cover crops, for Joey Deloian of the Rock Island County Soil and Water Conservation District, the proof is in the planting.
“I’m growing four different varieties of cover crops to have on display at the farm show. It gives farmers an idea of some options of cover crops that they can plant and people are just happy to see something green and growing at this time of the year,” said Deloian, a resource conservationist with the Rock Island County SWCD.
At the Quad Cities Farm Equipment Show, in the midst of a Midwest winter, the green and growing trays of cover crops at the SWCD booth are a welcome sight.
But for Deloian, the trays also offer a way to start conversations with farmers and landowners about cover crops. Those conversations are paying off.
In 2022, through the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Partners For Conservation cost-share program, eight Rock Island County farmers planted cover crops for the first time. The program offers up to $40 an acre to cover the cost of cover crop seed and implementation.
“This was the most cover crop cost shares we’ve had through the program and more interest is always good,” Deloian said.
Farmers and landowners who are interested in implementing conservation farming practices — whether it’s cover crops for the first time or tillage practices like no-till and strip-till — want examples.
“They really want examples of farms where it’s worked. They want to know that it is going to make sense for them to spend the money to do it. We’re often asked, is there another farmer who’s done this? What kind of success have they had? What problems have they encountered? They want to know the full picture, they want to know the successes, but also the failures,” Deloian said.
A major ongoing project at the Rock Island County SWCD is the Mill Creek Watershed project in lower Rock Island County. The watershed covers some 40,000 acres in Rock Island and Mercer counties.
“The Rock River has been identified as a top priority watershed for nutrient loss reduction by the EPA. Mill Creek flows into the Rock and that is the main reason that the Mill Creek Watershed is a focal point for us, to try to clean up that water before it reaches the Rock River,” Deloian said.
The project is still in its infancy. The first step is developing a resource plan for the watershed and Deloian said that includes identifying resource concerns in the watershed and what will be needed to address those concerns.
“We will be doing a lot of streambank stabilization projects if we can get landowner support, as well as installing grass waterways, water and sediment control basins. Hopefully, we will have more farmers putting in cover crops and, if they haven’t already, adopting practices like strip-till and no-till,” Deloian said.
Progress on reducing nutrient loads in Mill Creek, the Rock River and, ultimately, the Mississippi River, will be measured by water testing.
“We will get baseline levels and then we will go back, year after year, and take samples. Hopefully, through these practices, we will see a decrease in nutrient loads and sediment rates,” Deloian said.
But that progress and success won’t happen overnight, cautioned Deloian.
“It is not something that is going to be a night-and-day difference right away. It will certainly take years. Hopefully, in the next few years, we will see some difference, but it’s going to take a long time,” Deloian said.
And reducing those nutrient loads through conservation farming also will take all hands on deck.
“It will take a lot of landowners to come on board, who want to see the change for their own watershed, to make a difference. It’s not going to be just a couple of farmers who are going to make the difference, it’s going to take a lot of them,” Deloian said.
If You Go…
What: 2023 Quad Cities Farm Show
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 16, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 17.
Where: QCCA Expo Center, 2621 Fourth Ave., Rock Island, Illinois.
How Much: Admission is free.
More Information: See the special section inside the Jan. 13 issue of Illinois AgriNews.