When it comes to water quality, Illinois Corn puts their money where their mouth is.
In recent years, farmers have come under fire as new, modern fertilizers and water drainage methods have been blamed for increased nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the Gulf of Mexico. The theory is that farmers are using more nitrogen on their fields instead of crop rotations and that this trend, coupled with a newer trend of tiling fields to improve water drainage, makes more fertilizer run into nearby creeks and waterways. Eventually this water makes its way to the Mississippi River and then to the Gulf of Mexico where increased nitrogen and phosphorus levels kill fish and plants.
Because Illinois Corn and other Illinois farmer groups want to correct any amount of this problem that they are contributing to, we are investing in research to figure out first what the problems really are and second, how we fix them. Our main project right now is the Indian Creek Watershed Project.
Indian Creek’s 82-square mile watershed (52,480 acres) drains north to the Vermilion River’s south fork, one of the USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Initiative focus areas.
The major resource concern for Indian Creek watershed is water quality, particularly nitrate levels. With an average farm size of 500 acres, agriculture dominates the watershed – 95 percent of the land is tillable, most acres in a corn/soybean rotation, with several livestock operations.
The goal of the project is to determine what water quality changes occur when at least 50 percent of producers in a small watershed develop and implement comprehensive agriculture conservation systems. As of December 2011, 37 percent of the watershed’s farmers were enrolled in programs to enhance their conservation agricultural systems. Water quality parameters are recorded in-stream at five locations.
Using the in-stream monitoring and a growing number of farmer participants, we can determine a baseline for our nitrogen run-off into streams and whether or not our perceived solutions actually create meaningful reduction of nutrients in the water.
Other states have developed models to help farmers determine baseline data and improvement data on water quality control and conservation initiatives. Illinois works with those states to figure out our next steps for research and implementation.
Although we don’t have any meaningful data yet to report, Illinois Corn and all Illinois farmers are excited to demonstrate their willingness to fix environmental concerns by implementing conservation practices on their own farms. Not only is this about wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, but Illinois farmers are desperate to preserve water quality around their farmers, ensuring the livelihood of future generations on the family farm.