To the Editor:

Illinois suffers from a wasting disease borne by our streams and rivers which carry its riches down our waterways to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. We should all want to keep Illinois’ soil in Illinois, otherwise we squander one of the state’s most important resources: our soil.

Seventy-five percent of Illinois is farmland, yet 20 percent of nitrates reaching the Gulf of Mexico come from our state. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that this year’s Gulf dead zone is roughly the size of New Jersey, the largest on record. Dead zones are areas where massive algal blooms use up oxygen killing off sea life. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, not Illinois farmers, are to blame. Leading global food and agricultural companies can have an important voice in efforts to protect our precious soil and water. And some of these call Illinois home.

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy relies on farmers voluntarily adopting practices like cover crops to promote soil health and hold nutrients in the field (and not in our rivers), and help farmers protect their farm resources. The more soil that runs off a farm, the more investment washes away down river. To meet voluntary goals, Illinois needs the help of the food production industry.

Incorporating cover crops is just one piece of the puzzle of protecting soil, water, and habitat our wildlife depend on. To maintain Illinois’ place as a food producing powerhouse, we must safeguard our soil and water. I call on Illinois’ food company giants to encourage the producers they buy from to incorporate conservation practices where they can to protect the resources our communities all depend on — healthy soil and clean water.

Carol Hays

Executive Director

Prairie Rivers Network

Champaign

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