Working in Partnership

By: Woody Woodruff

farmers-shaking-hands-425Individuals, organizations and agencies working in coordination as a group, utilizing each individual’s strengths and diverse understanding of a problem, should be paramount in reaching a common solution to that problem. Albert Einstein once said; “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” What I take from that quote is that problems originate from individual mistakes in judgment, and are solved by collectively working as a group. This unity is at the backbone of our mission here at Illinois Stewardship Alliance. The larger the unit we pull from, the greater the chance of finding solutions to the problems. That is why we at Illinois Stewardship Alliance focus so much energy in creating good working relationships with many different individuals on farms, in different organizations, and in governmental agencies.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service through the USDA 2014 Farm Bill has extended the opportunity for individuals and organizations to form larger partnerships using the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, (RCPP). This program targets conservation problems facing land operators and owners with opportunities that a larger collaborating group or groups could possibly help to solve. The way it works is that organizations or collaborating groups will submit a proposal to NRCS which is aimed at helping producers install and maintain conservation activities in a selected project area.  These partner groups leverage RCPP funding in project areas and report on the benefits achieved.   The dollar incentives used from the 2014 Farm Bill are used exclusively to put the most effective conservation practices on the highest priority issues facing private lands. The partnerships are put in place to ensure that these dwindling federal dollars are invested in those farming operations in the most efficient and effective way possible.  Illinois Stewardship Alliance has partnered with a multitude of individuals and organizations, including the American Farmland Trust, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and local county Soil & Water Conservation Districts in order to submit two separate RCPP proposals. One proposal deals with the adaption of innovative and proven soil health practices on at least one model farm in each of the counties throughout the State of Illinois.  The other submitted  proposal deals with the needed improvement in the quality of water flowing into the Mississippi River by developing local strategies on adoption and application of nutrient reducing practices to the highest level of impaired nitrogen and phosphorus watersheds.  This goal stems from the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Plan that is about to be released in November. The goal in both partnerships is to empower local farmers with the best information and tools needed to solve his or her conservation needs on the farm. In doing so, our hope is that these individual farmers will become mentors and partner with the neighboring farmers and agricultural organizations to form watershed or county partnerships. Farmer led partnerships seem to be a key component in solving these major issues facing our farming communities. Decisions by NRCS to accept the two RCPP proposal partnerships mentioned above as official projects will be made in late November. If you would like to know more about how RCPP works, please call Woody at the Illinois Stewardship office or call your District Conservationist at your local county NRCS office.

The Resource Conservation Partnership Program if nothing else has helped ISA and countless other individuals to come together and form new or reform old bonds to collaboratively address the issues that we as individuals have had problems solving.   I think that one key that I have always adhered to in life is never burn a bridge to someone or something once you have spent the energy to build it. Sometimes that takes great patience with certain individuals, but never give up on someone or bridges can fall like dominos.  That is the way I am taking these RCPP proposals. Whether one or both of the proposals is accepts or not, this is only a small part in solving our problems. Coming together to form partnerships was a bigger step towards coming up with a solution. Now all that we need to do to solve these problems is to stay together and focus on the problems.