SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Bipartisan legislation that creates the Healthy Soils Initiative and commits to improved coordination between the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Soil and Water Conservation Districts was signed into law Aug. 4.
The legislation calls for IDOA to administer and support the Healthy Soils Initiative, a locally led effort to pinpoint and guide voluntary strategies to improve the ability of Illinois farms to grow vigorous crops and maintain resilience to extreme weather events.
Senate Bill 1701 and the Healthy Soils Initiative also brings together the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the University of Illinois Extension program to create an expansive Illinois soil health framework implemented by SWCD and IDOA.
As part of the process, county SWCDs will develop soil health assessments to identify the staffing and funding needed to ensure farmers have both the tools and in-the-field support to embrace soil health strategies and tactics that work best within their farm operations.
The new legislation places special emphasis on beginning, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers.
“Research has consistently shown that nourishing the soil by increasing organic matter is the first step to combating climate change and optimizing nutrient use,” according to the American Farmland Trust.
“A comprehensive approach to soil health, which includes cover crops, tillage management, crop diversification and drainage water management, promises multiple benefits. These range from reducing soil and nutrient losses to retaining carbon in the soil and ensuring crop and soil productivity.”
“Every step we take today to prevent our soils from eroding and losing nutrients is a step forward for tomorrow,” said Grant Hammer, director of the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, a member organization of the Illinois Healthy Soil and Waters Coalition.
“The practices envisioned in Senate Bill 1701 will give farmers overseeing operations of all sizes the knowledge and opportunity they need to seamlessly integrate sustainable farming practices into their daily lives. We all will benefit from more farms using cover crops and other conservation tools to protect their investment and promote a healthier, stronger future.”
“Conservation on farms is one of the best ways that Illinois can tackle nutrient loss. But practice adoption is risky and farmers need the proper tools and support to implement conservation practices. The passage of SB 1701 provides resources farmers need and accelerates our ability to meet the goals of the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy,” said Liz Rupel, Illinois Stewardship Alliance lead organizer.
“We are encouraged to see such strong bipartisan support for soil health in Illinois,” said Kris Reynolds, Midwest regional director for American Farmland Trust.
“The Partners for Conservation program and SWCDs are the best delivery system for technical assistance to farms adopting soil health practices like cover cropping, no-till and reduced tillage. With legislative support across the aisle, The Healthy Soils Initiative will give them the support and guidance from IDOA that’s necessary to expand these practices statewide.”
As an Illinois Healthy Soil and Waters Coalition member, American Farmland Trust worked alongside the state’s leading agricultural, conservation and environmental organizations to support the legislation.
“At AFT we know that soil health is a win-win for agriculture and the environment,” Reynolds said. “This is a good first step and we’re glad to see stakeholders come together, work together and agree that there is more work to be done.
“We look forward to continued collaboration to support SWCDs and farmers while addressing the water quality and nutrient loss problems that affect us all.”