To the Editor:
Agriculture is the largest economic sector in Illinois. Seventy thousand farms cover roughly 75% of the state’s total land area.
Farms all over Southern Illinois fuel our economy, but farming has become increasingly more difficult because of soil erosion and nutrient loss. These challenges are impacting all farm operations and a farmer’s bottom line.
One way to combat the challenges? Cover crops.
Cover crops are not harvested but are planted to reduce nutrient leaching, soil loss, and runoff, while also improving soil health. Healthier soil creates larger yields because it improves water absorption, suppresses soil diseases and pests, and can help prevent weed growth.
Cover crops also help reduce nutrient loss, a significant threat to our farms and our food and water supply. In 2015, the state launched the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) to identify ways to direct resources towards improving water quality and reducing run-off. Planting cover crops are one of the most effective tools that can help the state reach its ambitious goals.
In 2019, the Illinois Department of Agriculture launched a pilot program to incentivize farmers to plant cover crops. The program exploded with popularity, but the state legislature must renew funding for the program for it to continue.