Farmers urged to change how they care for their soil

Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 7:28 PM CST
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EAST PEORIA (25News Now) - Farmers and landowners gathered at Illinois Central College on Monday to learn what’s next for the agribusiness industry.

Shifts in the growing season and soil maintenance were some of the concerns addressed.

“In my mind, it was strictly a miracle of a year. Most farmers in my area agreed with me 100%. On paper it was impossible,” said a farmer from Livingston County attending a farmland owners conference at ICC.

Dan Schaefer, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association’s director of nutrient stewardship, said it was a tough year.

“Talking with landowners here, they’re concerned about their investment being degraded. We’ve got to stop the loss, nurture it back and get the structure back,” said Schaefer.

Agriculture experts said they’re also alarmed by how the soil’s nutrients are not as rich as they were 50-years-ago.

Schaefer said nutrient loss can be prevented, and he believes farmers should plant cover crops after fall harvests.

“Instead of doing tillage, let’s do a cover crop. Let’s cover that crop. Let’s keep a green, winter, hardy crop growing there, and then terminate in the spring and then plant. This change will increase the productivity and the value to the landowners of their soil.” said Schaefer.

He said farmers have been tilling the same way for the past 50-to-60-years, losing soil nutrients in winter without cover crops.

If this doesn’t change, Schaefer predicts the rich soil in Illinois farm fields will hit a brick wall for growing anything in 50-years.

Another reason for poorer-than-normal soil is nutrient runoff.

Schaefer said a lot of people have spread fertilizer on frozen or snow-covered ground.

“Just don’t do that because as soon as we get rainfall after those applications are made, then we have a direct line into those streams or rivers,” Schaefer said.

Soil conservation was a major topic at ICC, but revenue diversification for farmers was another, including the potential value of wind, solar and broadband easements.