Looking for Conservation and Cover Crop Resources?
Our Soil Health Caucus Members have indicated that the resources below are the best places, no matter the size of the farm, to get started with adapting conservation practices, like cover crops, to your farm.
Healthy soils are the foundation of any successful farm system
The first step to building soil health is determining your starting point. A great way to see what is happening beneath your feet is through soil sampling and testing.
Why test your soil?
- optimize productivity
- improve soils nutritional balance
- save $$
- diagnose problems
- prevent over application of fertilizers and nutrients
How do I get a test?
Here are few great to get started:
- The University of Illinois Extension has a list of soil testing labs in Illinois
- Call your County Soil Water Conservation District to see if they offer soil fertility testing
- Check out Understanding Ag Soil Testing forms
- Learn more about the Haney test and PLFA Test
Get to know the locals. Starting a relationship with your county Soil Water Conservation District (SWCD), local Farm Service Agency (FSA), and your local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
What do they do and how do I find them?
The SWCD county staff are a vital part of grass roots efforts to get conservation and natural resource practices on the land and to educate farmers and landowners across all of Illinois about conservation benefits and opportunities. SWCD’s are considered “the multi-functional tool in the toolbox,” working on areas of work including soil health to water quality. Find your county office.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency serves farmers, ranchers, and agriculture partners through the delivery of agriculture programs like risk coverage and beginning farmer and rancher loans. For a full list of programs and services click here and to find your local Agency, follow this link.
Lastly, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is another branch of the USDA that works with private landowners (farmers, ranchers and foresters) to put conservation practices in place that will benefit the soil, water, air, and wildlife. Find your local service center here.
Join one of our Farmer Caucuses
Are you a farmer or advocate that’s passionate about soil health, land stewardship, local food, and regional food systems? Do your ears perk up when you hear “Illinois has the power to feed Illinois” or “Imagine an Illinois where farmers earn a living responsibly stewarding the land” ?
Are you looking to connect with others that share your passion? Look no further! The Alliance Soil Health Farmer Caucus and/or the Local Food Farmer Caucus are two great groups to join to meet like-minded farmers.
Learn the Secrets of Soil Health
You’ve seen rows of green sprouting up in your neighbors’ fields over the winter, you’ve heard other farmers talking about improved soil health from their cover crops, and you’ve watched as your their fields have withstood droughts and floods– what are they doing differently? Check out the Farmer-to-Farmer Soil Health Series and learn from 7 different successful farmers across Illinois the secrets to improving soil health, reducing chemical dependence, and managing risk for long-term financial and environmental success!
The Farmer-to-Farmer Video Series features 12 videos on topics ranging from cover crops, soil biodiversity, rotational grazing, protecting against nutrient runoff, and more. It’s never been easier to learn the secrets to soil health from the comfort of your home. In addition, every farmer and soil health speaker featured has agreed to provide their contact information, so if you’ve got additional questions, call them up! We’re building a network of farmers who care about the land and about each other. Will you join us?
Check out the Video Series!
Available Federal Programs to Support your Conservation Efforts
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Programs help farmers reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies, improve water quality, draw down carbon, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damages caused by floods and other natural disasters.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
EQIP assists farmers and ranchers in trying and investing in new conservation practices. Contracts are competitive, and not every application is funded each year. Many beginning farmers and ranchers use these programs to cost-share practices, such as cover crops, or to install grazing infrastructure or high tunnels. The duration of contracts varies but are
commonly one to three years
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
CSP rewards farmers and ranchers who are already doing conservation and want to build and strengthen their efforts. In CSP, a farmer or rancher creates a holistic conservation plan with their local NRCS conservation specialist. This plan is built to address resource concerns across the whole farm or ranch. Popular management practices include cover crops, rotational grazing, and no-till. Contracts last for five years. CSP can be a great fit for beginning farmers and ranchers who are already implementing some conservation on the farm and want to take their efforts to the next level.
Beginners, veterans, and farmers of color should inquire at their local offices about opportunities for increased cost-share or earlier payments. EQIP offers an advance payment option for what USDA classifies as historically underserved farmers, which limits the out-of-pocket start-up cost for conservation practices.
Funding Opportunities Available From NRCS Programs
NRCS provides funding opportunities for agricultural producers and other landowners through these programs.
New Resources from the Center for Rural Affairs provide an overview of conservation programs and the application process.
A set of information guides developed by the Center for Rural Affairs detail two of the flagship working lands programs—the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). These resources answer a range of questions, from “Am I eligible to apply for a cost-share program?” to “Can I participate if I rent the land I farm?”
In addition to helping producers interested in conservation learn more about CSP and EQIP, the guides offer practical insight on the application process and working with local NRCS offices.
Learning from the soil health community
Agriculture and Environmental Organizations
- The Land Connection
- Midwest Cover Crops Council
- American Farmland Trust
- Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership
- Understanding Ag
- Illinois Spray Drift Education Network
- S.T.A.R. Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources
- Izaak Walton League
- Practical Farmers of Iowa
- Prairie Rivers Network
- The Nature Conservancy in Illinois
- The Illinois Audubon Society
- American Corn Growers Association
- Center for Rural Affairs
- Farm Aid
- Food First
- Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE)
- Institute for Ag and Trade Policyational Farmers Union