January 28, 2021

Wessel: Maximizing returns from conservation practices

Illinois farmers are always seeking ways to bump up their profitability. The Illinois Soybean Association is always eager to assist. And that includes investing checkoff dollars in new ways to help farmers maximize return on investment from their conservation practices.

We cannot ignore the importance of addressing conservation concerns. We must be proactive in efforts to implement practices that result in measurably improved water quality, soil health and positive climate impact.

Sharing our conservation program results with government agencies and the public at large goes a long way in demonstrating our dedication to sustainability.

That is why I am excited to share that ISA has joined Illinois Corn Growers Association in expanding the Precision Conservation Management program.

The goal is to help farmers understand and manage risks associated with new conservation practices they apply, using sound financial decisions while addressing Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy tenets.

The program is unique — it evaluates conservation practices for use on both their impact to the environment and their impact to farmer profitability. It uses whole field data to assess financial and environmental outcomes associated with adopting certain conservation practices.

Specifically, PCM provides participating farmers with one-on-one technical assistance and information they need to make changes, including more certainty about outcomes and risk management.

PCM specialists are currently guiding the decision-making process with more than 300 farmers in 16 Illinois counties and 10 Kentucky counties, totaling more than 300,000 acres.

Actual farmer data collected since the start of the program in 2015 reveals how specific practices are good for Illinois soil and water. Now, through the expanded partnership with ISA, funding will offer cost-share opportunities for farmers in northern, western and southwestern Illinois counties, too.

The goal is for PCM specialists to be in place to assist farmers during the first half of 2021. With these additions, PCM and its data will be directly applicable to most Illinois farms and specific geographies.

PCM specialists will register and provide personal assistance for up to 100 farmers in each of the new regions, or about 100,000 acres per region within the defined areas, to identify conservation needs.

Specialists will use data from agronomic management practices, economic models and sustainability metrics to develop customized solutions likely to deliver greenhouse gas and water quality benefits and positive return on investment to enrolled farmers.

Eventually, a PCM Advisory Committee of farmers will be created to provide guidance and support to staff of the PCM program, including evaluating the program’s implementation and progress toward achieving goals and objectives set by PCM staff.

Participating farmers will also find that information obtained from PCM is good to share with landlords and lenders, as well as suppliers and service providers to get work done on their farms.

As the program grows, ISA and Illinois Corn will have greater leverage to seek out more grants and resources that can help the state’s farmers enhance their conservation practices for the future. For information or to learn how to participate, visit www.precisionconservation.org.

David Wessel is an at-large director and chairman of the Utilization Committee of the Illinois Soybean Association.