A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.  Essentially, they contend that the sewer system needs upgrading to prevent further water quality issues, as Chicago is the single largest contributor of phosphorus to the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

You can read more about that story here

Municipalities are the largest source of phosphorus run off/contamination in Illinois’ river system, but agriculture has to own the abundance of Nitrogen also making its way to the Gulf.  Phosphorus and nitrogen are both problems contributing to the hypoxia zone and agriculture is ready to educate our farmers and address the situation head on.

Keep It for the Crop 2025 (KIC 2025) is a new effort that is going to do just that.  But first, keep reading for a basic science lesson and a little background on the issue.

Illinois is a state once covered in prairie grasses that left behind a rich, black soil.  Corn is also a prairie grass; the fact that the crop is historically suited for Illinois soils is the reason corn is so successfully grown in our state.  As the organic matter in our rich soils mineralizes, nitrogen is released.  This is the same nitrogen that the lush prairie grasses needed – and the same nitrogen that corn needs to grow so abundantly.

High levels of nitrogen in Illinois soils is a historical fact.  Our soil make up contains higher levels of nitrogen that others.  The problem has come as farmers tiled or drained their fields over time, allowing for that nitrogen to make a quick trip into the streams and river system that was never present before.

The other problem is that farmers must apply additional nitrogen to grow the best crops that will feed the most people.  Luckily, we’ve gotten better at this science as Global Positions System (GPS) has allowed us to apply nitrogen only in the exact spot that we will come back and plant the corn seeds.  Our nitrogen application rate per bushel of corn has dropped 30 percent since 1980 and Illinois farmers are making fabulous progress.But there is still progress to be made.

The KIC 2025 (link) is agriculture’s effort to keep driving farmers to use best management practices.  Through farmer education, research to tell us what practices work best to manage nitrogen loss, and continued technology, corn farmers are going to continue making incredible strides to address nitrogen runoff while growing record crops.

Rodney M Weinzierl
ICGA/ICMB Exec Director


May is Clean Air Month, a topic that is very important to the American Lung Association in Illinois (ALA-IL). Many people are aware of the ALA-IL’s involvement in cleaning the air of unhealthy cigarette smoke, but ALA-IL is also involved in the use of biofuels as a Clean Air Choice. One of our areas of focus is the promotion of the use of E85 fuel – a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline – which is a cleaner-burning and renewable alternative to petroleum gasoline.

The use of E85 and purchasing of Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) are a significant source for clean air in Illinois as a single car can prevent 4 tons of CO2 as well as other harmful pollutants from entering the air we breathe. With over 9 million FFVs on the road in the U.S. today, this has the potential for a major clean air improvement. Production of E85 also sustains jobs in Illinois as we are the 2nd leading producer of ethanol in the country, with over 470 million gallons of ethanol being used for fuel each year.

How is the ALA-IL promoting E85 and FFVs? In the year 2010, the ALA-IL assisted in the funding of constructing 12 E85 pumps throughout Illinois. With “The Obama Administration looking to add 10,000 so-called ‘blender pumps’ over the next five years to the inventory of about 2,350 pumps that can distribute E85,” (Auto Observer) the ALA-IL plans to stay involved in this infrastructure program for years to come. Additionally, the ALA-IL has been running a Flex-Fuel Vehicle Dealership Development Program throughout Illinois since mid-2010. This program has aided in the sale of nearly 700 FFVs in Illinois in less than a year and has expanded consumer education on the topic of E85 fuel.  Also, be sure to check out our E85 Coupon Program website to learn more about our programs and for an opportunity to request a $10 E85 coupon for use at any of the over 150 participating stations in Illinois.

So the next time you think of the American Lung Association in Illinois, think clean air through E85 fuel.

Crystal Bolliger
Environmental Programs Coordinator
American Lung Association in Illinois


from the Washington Post, March 28, 2011:

Lawns are adding to Chesapeake Bay pollution, study says.

Grassy turf, not farmland, is the most dominant crop in the bay watershed.  There were almost 1.3 million acres of planted turf in Maryland in 2009, compared with 1.5 million acres of all other crops, says the study by the Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center.

It’s an interesting statement, isn’t it?  Illinois farmers have been closely watching the activity in the Chesapeake Bay, knowing that whatever regulations the EPA plans to minimize hypoxia zones in the bay are headed straight for the Mississippi River next.

And while Illinois farmers are willing to look at their impact to the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico and are willing to adapt Best Management Practices that mitigate the damage to fish and wildlife, they are not willing to accept 100 percent of the blame.

Interesting then, that a new study finally points a finger at other sources.  According to the Washington Post article, the study criticized Maryland’s regulation of the state’s turf crop as lax.  Tracking fertilizer use on developed land is such a low priority that the state doesn’t keep statistics on it, but Maryland Department of Agriculture records show non-farm-use fertilizers are quickly catching up to farm fertilizer sales.

The article further states that researchers found 56 percent of nutrients in one stream in a watershed in suburban Baltimore came from lawn fertilizer.

Ultimately, Illinois farmers hope to see everyone involved in an environmental solution on the Mississippi River.  Just regulating municipalities, farmers, and corporations won’t solve any problems.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Kicking off National Ag Week and on the eve of 2011’s National Ag Day, I have an opportunity to discuss a topic that draws plenty of attention, yet defines the future of agriculture. In today’s society, there is a big misconception concerning production agriculture. This misconception is that farmers don’t care about the environment; they only look at making a profit. If I were to mention the word sustainability, what comes into your mind? Since only two percent of our population live on farms, that leaves about ninety-eight percent of the population that may associate the term sustainability solely with the organic food movement. Although organic farming does incorporate sustainable practices, conventional farming operations are becoming more sustainable. For me to present this topic and dispel a few myths I need to give us a base definition.

Referencing the USDA’s website, “Congress defines sustainable agriculture as ‘… an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long-term—(A) satisfy human food and fiber needs; (B) enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends; (C) make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; (D) sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and (E) enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.’” In simple terms sustainability is the capacity to endure. It is my goal to break down this definition, dispel a few myths and convey information concerning the agriculture industry as it moves forward in the 21st century.

Intrigued by this definition, let me start with the first portion of the definition. Sustainable agriculture is an integrated system of practices and it is site-specific, meaning that each farm will have sustainable practices unique to that operation. For example, a grain farmer in the south may not be able to access swine manure for fertilizer as easily as a grain farm in the Midwest due to the concentration of swine operations in that area. Some examples of practices that may be integrated are tillage practices such as no-till and strip till, use of hybrids, biotechnology, and/or manure handling in livestock operations.

Looking at point A, satisfying human food and fiber needs, I strongly feel that biotechnology is critical here. Through hybridization and plant breeding strategies, many of our food and fiber crops are increasing yields and are more efficient when it comes to nutrient requirements. Despite the current debate over food vs. fuel, there is plenty of corn being produced to satisfy our needs and increased technology is resulting in higher yielding hybrids. Other crops are seeing similar results. In livestock production, farmers are using production data for breeding selections that maximize production of our meat proteins. Also, many livestock feed rations are now including more forage based ingredients, reducing the demand on our grains.

Point B, enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends, really points to where the future of agriculture is moving to. The use of transgenic crops has reduced the need for herbicides and insecticides, keeping those chemicals out of the equation when it comes to reaching our water system. More and more farmers are using modern tillage practices, reducing soil erosion, and preserving the medium in which our crops grow in. The use of cover crops to further reduce erosion and build the soil’s nutrient levels and organic matter is increasing in popularity. Using tillage radishes or turnips as “bio-drilling” tools to reduce compaction in the soil, reduces the power needed to work the soil, thus saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions from farm machinery. Personally, I am very interested in the use of cover crops and am working to encourage more use of them in my area. Using natural means to build soil nutrient levels reduces the amount of additional fertilizers needed, thus reducing the potential for runoff. Farmers are applying improved techniques for nutrient delivery such as variable-rate applicators and banding to reduce the total amounts of fertilizers needed.

Point C, make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls, looks at improving the performance of our farm power machinery to make them more fuel efficient and preserve the nonrenewable resource we know as oil. Many farmers are using on-farm resources, such as animal manure for fertilizer as opposed to synthetic fertilizers, maximizing the production from each animal unit as well as reducing input costs for crops. Farmers using conservation practices such as terracing and contouring are further reducing soil loss and controlling erosion. These are just a couple of examples of using natural controls in agriculture.

Parts D, sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and E, enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole, go together nicely. Through sustainable practices like I mentioned earlier, input costs are reduced, increasing the potential for profit and self-sufficiency in farming operations. In addition, sustainable practices, keep the land going to support future generations of farming on the same land. Efficiency in farming operations through sustainable practices improves family life because more time is spent with the family instead of the fields or barns. And, properly managing nutrients, farmers are working to keep our soils healthy and our water safe, thus enhancing the quality of life for the people of this nation.

Looking at the definition of sustainability in each of the components, it is easy to see that farmers are concerned about the environment. They are working to reduce soil loss, reduce energy needed for farming, and reduce inputs, and protect our water systems. With more and more farmers adopting more and more sustainable practices, I am confident that moving into the future, that in the long term, our farming system will be sustainable.

David Taylor
Joliet Junior Student & Part-Time Farmer


One day every year we allow the fate of our weather for the upcoming months to be determined by the fears of a woodland rodent.  People’s reliance on this fuzzy creature’s prediction dates back to the 1840s.  Even with advanced weather technology to warn us of upcoming blizzards days in advance, thousands still come to see Punxsutawney Phil each year. Weather plays an important role in both agriculture and the environment.  

As a little girl I dreamed of one day standing in front of a weather map telling the world what to expect.  However, as I grew older I began to develop an interest for learning about the interaction between humans and the environment.  Coming from a suburban background, my education never included the effects that an altered environment would have on agriculture.  

Now, as an agricultural and environmental communications student at the University of Illinois, I’ve come to learn that the environment and agriculture are not two separate issues.  Instead, they are revolve in an endless cycle.  Last week I sat in a lecture and learned about climate change and how it can affect agriculture.  Agriculture faces long term challenges from heat stress, water stress, pests and diseases.  If carbon dioxide concentrations continue to double, the North American climate average is estimated to warm by 5 to 11 degrees Farenheit.  This might not seem like such a drastic change but that would make Illinois’ climate similar to that of Mississippi.  

Learning about the current issues agriculture and the environment face is important if we want conditions to remain the same.  Although I was never able to deliver the weather to thousands of viewers or give Punxsutawney Phil’s annual report, I was able to expand my knowledge and learn how agriculture is part of everyone’s daily lives.  

Hope you are staying warm today, despite the nasty conditions out there today!  Be safe!

Ashley LaVela
University of Illinois student


Farmers have to be part agronimist, conservationist, meterologist, economist …

and all optimist!

Find out more about Illinois farmer’s best management practices at

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In January 2009, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, OH ruled that National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits under the Clean Water Act are required for any pesticide applications that reach waters of the U.S. This was a game changing decision, as the ruling was written so broadly that growers now have no assurance that they are exempt from this requirement.

You and I are more vulnerable to citizen lawsuits on the Clean Water Act than ever before.

In the past, the EPA had decided that pesticides were adequately regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and did not subject farmers to Clean Water Act requirements. That is no longer the case.

The new permitting program is scheduled to take effect in April, 2011 which is sneaking up on us. Legislation introduced in the House and Senate this past year would have overturned the 6th Circuit decision and clarified that permits are not necessarily with pesticide applicators are following the FIFRA label. As we begin a new session of Congress, we’ll have to start over on this type of legislation and try, try again.

But while we wait on that …the Illinois EPA moves forward preparing their rules for the new NPDES permits. And they don’t look pretty. In fact, Illinois Corn’s initial assessment (and that of other commodity and farm organizations within the state) is that the state of Illinois is taking the new ruling much further than they need to.

Whether this is due to oversight or intention remains to be seen. What I can assure you is that Illinois Corn and NCGA continue to watch over this matter, making sure that realistic guidelines for the application of crop protection products are considered.

Stay tuned.

Rodney M. Weinzierl
ICGA/ICMB Executive Director


In the wake of a long night waiting up to see the results of the elections (and still waiting to see the outcome of the Gubernatorial race) I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what the outcomes, or proposed outcomes, mean for agriculture. If we assume Governor Quinn wins, we already know he supports an income tax increase and I have to assume that it will be a priority to help resolve our budget mess. The problem with this plan of attack is that it only solves half the annual shortfall at most and does nothing to address our State’s huge backlog of past bills yet to be paid. That means either greater revenue increases or budget cuts, neither of which will be easy.
Furthermore, if Governor Quinn decides to only represent the Chicago area, ag and business are in for a rough four years as additional revenue and/or cuts will not be made over a broad base. Long-term, this continues to put the Illinois economy in a tailspin and business leaves the state.

Farmers can’t move the land so our businesses can’t leave the state! Our choice is to be proactive early on so that the “pain” is shared as equitably as possible and our state’s economy can grow. If not, the result will be that our state will continue its economic decline.

illinois election congressional districtsMoving on to the federal races, I was blown away by the magnitude of the Republican wave. We had four Congressional seats “flip” from Democrat to Republican: Halvorson, Foster, Hare and Bean. I had expected only one or two.

What does this mean? First of all I hope that the zealousness of USEPA on regulations slows down and in some cases stop. Although it was not an election issue, I believe that USEPA is not well-liked in the rural areas for the agenda they have been trying to move forward. The danger for agriculture though is to assume that all of this goes away. Some will slow down, some will be put on the shelf, but some will continue. As an example, nutrient regulation will continue because the movement of nutrient regulation is based on the Clean Water Act that all states were to implement and USEPA was to enforce back in 2000. There’s no getting away from this one.

The other major effect to agriculture is in the area of funding. Nearly everyone elected last night in either the US House or the US Senate will want to demonstrate to the electorate they did something about the deficit when they are up for re-election. This will be a priority. That means that Farm Bill, business tax credits, ethanol tax credits, research, and any other spending by the Federal Government will be under the microscope. This is not a bad thing, but if we expect our elected officials to reduce the federal deficit, ag must be prepared that some of our own programs will be part of the solution.

All in all, it was a fun election night that offers a host of new challenges and opportunities for ag. We have four new US Congressman and a new US Senator that know very little about ag issues and I look forward to the dialogue as we teach them what Illinois’ number one industry is all about.

Rodney M Weinzierl
ICGA Executive Director

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Originally published in Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News

The World Health Organization has increased its drinking water quality guideline for atrazine from 2 parts per billion to 100 ppb — a far less stringent level than EPA’s current drinking water standard of 3 ppb.

Atrazine proponents say the new guideline reaffirms the safety of atrazine, which EPA is currently re-evaluating. But a long time critic of the herbicide says WHO failed to take into account infants and young children’s special vulnerability and higher exposure per body weight than adults.

The new 100 ppb guideline will be included in the 4th edition of WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, to be published in 2011. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist regulators and policymakers in the development of national standards.

“The WHO has no regulatory force at all, and the drinking water guidelines are merely recommendations,” Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News via e-mail. “They are often adopted by countries that do not have the resources to conduct their own assessments.”

Sass says while both WHO and EPA rely on the same study to achieve their guideline and standard, respectively, EPA has attempted to address the vulnerability of infants and children, “albeit not to our satisfaction,” by applying the 10X Food Quality Protection Act safety factor.

Furthermore, to arrive at its drinking water guideline, WHO assumes a 60kg adult drinking two liters of water a day, with 20% of total daily intake of atrazine coming from drinking water. But kids drink more water per body weight than adults, Sass says, noting EPA has a default water intake rate of one liter of water per day for a 10kg child.

However, others say EPA should take a page out of WHO’s scientific playbook.

“Here in the U.S., activists, insisting that atrazine levels at or even below 3 parts per billion are dangerous, have led EPA and the American taxpayer on an expensive wild goose chase,” says Triazine Network Chairman Jere White, referring to what he believes is a politically motivated atrazine re-evaluation. “The U.S. EPA should follow the lead of the World Health Organization and continue to rely on sound science to evaluate atrazine,” White adds in an Oct. 5 statement.

James Lamb, director and principal scientist at consulting firm Exponent’s Center for Toxicology and Mechanistic Biology, says EPA’s current drinking water standard for atrazine appears to be too severe.

“These new findings from WHO suggest that the EPA should re-evaluate the current 3 parts per billion standard in order to bring it into line with the latest scientific data,” he says in the statement.


Labor Day, the day we American’s celebrate our nation’s workforce, is a great day to announce plans for more jobs. I definitely understand what President Obama was thinking when he stood in Milwaukee, WI and announced plans for massive infrastructure investment, which will not only modernize American roads, rails, and runways, but will also create millions of jobs.

What I don’t understand is the conspicuous absence of funding for upgraded locks and dams.

Will investment in waterway transportation create jobs? Yes. Updating our waterway infrastructure will create 48 million hours of labor for skilled trade workers throughout the Midwest.

Does investment in waterway transportation offer a return on investment? Definitely. America’s inland waterway navigation system moves more than a billion tons of domestic commerce valued at more than $300 billion per year. Agricultural products are a significant portion of that commerce and agriculture is one industry with potential to pull our economy out of the black hole it’s in.

Does investment in waterway transportation garner industry support? Undoubtedly. The shipping industry is the only industry stepping forward to provide additional funding streams for upgrades to their system that will match federal dollars. In other words, upgrading locks and dams provides jobs and return on investment in a much bigger dose than other projects because the industry is financing a portion of the project.

So what’s the problem? I’m not sure. President Obama used to support lock and dam upgrades. As a US Senator he was an advocate for upgraded locks and dams and even played a key role in the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 that now simply sits for lack of funding. He used to be in favor of allowing the US to be competitive in a global market. He used to understand that Midwestern agriculture, the powerhouse of the American economy, relied on efficient infrastructure to get goods to markets all across the globe.

What’s changed? Again, I’m not sure. What I do know is that investment in waterway transportation offers a greener option for transporting goods, a bundle of great jobs for Midwestern workers, and a means to allow agriculture to further drive our country out of an economic mess.

All I know for sure is that that no matter what question I ask, upgraded locks and dams are the answer. More jobs, greener transportation, supportive to our nation’s largest economic powerhouse …

Mr. President, where are the locks and dams?

Jim Tarmann
Frustrated IL Corn Waterway Transportation Specialist