Local food and conservation win big this legislative season

State legislature passes 2 bills, a resolution, and an appropriation to build regenerative, local food systems

Increased efforts to organize, educate, and build coalitions paid off big this year for Illinois Stewardship Alliance members and supporters who worked hard this legislative season. Member hosted legislative farm tours, wrote op-eds, attended lobby days, and contacted their lawmakers throughout the Spring. As a result, the 2019 legislative season wrapped up with important wins for farmers, farmland conservation, clean water, and communities across the state that crave wholesome, local food. The victories include:

These wins are laying the groundwork for vibrant, regenerative local food systems that protect Illinois’ greatest natural resources, keep more farmers on the land growing healthy food, and keep more food dollars in our local economies. As a result of legislative victories this year, Illinois can expect the following:

1.More farmers planting cover crops to protect Illinois soil, water, and wildlife, and rewarded for their good conservation practices

Thanks to the $300,000 appropriation for the “Fall Cover for Spring Savings” program the Illinois Department of Agriculture now has the ability to replicate an Iowa program that provides a $5 per acre reward for crop insurance premiums or every acre covered. Cover crops– crops planted after harvest–are an important conservation tool for farmers. They naturally add organic matter to the soil, prevent nutrient runoff, and keep our waterways clean. Over time they help farmers reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. But planting cover crops costs money and time. The “Fall Cover for Spring Savings,” will encourage and reward the use of cover crops that protect Illinois soil, water, and wildlife. We’re excited to work with Illinois Department of Ag and farmers across the state to support and promote this new program. Look for more fields covered in green this winter!

2. More procurement of locally-grown food by state institutions, keeping more money in our state economy instead of flowing to food companies out of state or out of country.

The Enhancing Local Food Opportunities SB1450/HB2505 bill amends the definition of “local” food for state procurement to provide more opportunities for Illinois growers and processors to supply local food to state agencies and institutions. Under the previous definition, a product like strawberry jam made with Illinois strawberries wouldn’t be counted as “local” because the sugar used to make the jam wasn’t grown in Illinois. The new, expanded definition allows any product grown, processed, or packaged in Illinois, with at least one Illinois grown ingredient, to be defined as “local.” The new definition gives Illinois state agencies (schools, veterans homes, state departments, etc.) the ability to procure more local food to help meet their goal of 20% local food by 2020.

3. Increased support for farmers to build soil health

The Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) are an important resource for farmers in Illinois. They are the boots on the ground that can advance conservation practices in support of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. The “Make Soil Health a Goal for County SWCDs HB2737/SB1980 Halpin/Bennett” bill add soil health practices to the list of resources that SWCDs can provide farmers. When farmers use soil health practices, we all benefit with clean drinking water, less erosion, and less runoff.U

4. A concentrated effort to protect Illinois waterways and keep water clean for recreation, drinking, and wildlife.

The Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is a strategy created by state agencies and organizations to reduce nutrient pollution into Illinois waterways that have contributed to the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone.” Currently, Illinois is a top contributor of nutrient pollution to the Mississippi River, which is immensely harmful to not only the Gulf, but the safety, cleanliness, and wildlife of our own waterways. The Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) Resolution SR0052/Bennett encourages Illinois lawmakers to take these strategies seriously and support programs and policies that will help Illinois meet its goal to reduce our phosphorus load by 25% and nitrogen load by 15% by 2025. The Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy aims to clean waterways in collaboration with Illinois farmers, in place of restrictive regulations that might negatively impact their livelihoods.

We are still waiting for the Governor’s signature on the bills and resolution before they officially become law. In addition, while the legislative season has come to an end, our work is far from over. This summer we’ll be working on bill and program implementation, scheduling legislative farm tours, building relationships with lawmakers, visiting with farmers, researching legislation, and gearing up to make an even bigger impact next year. We hope you can join us at Summer Shindog near you to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference.