Nearly every drop of rain that falls on Illinois farmland runs off the field, into our waterways, and takes soil and pollution with it. Pollution from Illinois and Iowa makes its way down to the Gulf of Mexico where it’s created a hypoxic dead zone the size of New Jersey.
A few years ago, we realized that our approach in educating farmers on cover crops and sustainable practices alone wasn’t enough to make the change we need to stop runoff. So we went to the farmers we knew through our Conservation Education program and asked: do you want to use your voice to scale up soil health?
Kathy and Rick Kaesebier were all in. They were among the first to join our new Soil Health Caucus.
Kathy and Rick run Kaesebier Farms together in Elkhart in Central Illinois. They raise corn, beans, wheat, a few cattle, Katahdin sheep, meat and layer chickens, and honeybees. They’re the kind of couple that finish each other’s sentences.
Caucus members dove into research to find policy solutions. They wanted to know what other states had done to get more cover crops on the ground. They were impressed with a program in Iowa that provides a $5 per acre reward on farmers’ crop insurance premium for using cover crops.
Cover crops are a conservation tool. They are generally planted in a field after the corn or soybean harvest, and they grow from fall to spring. They cover the ground like a warm blanket of green throughout the winter, helping to prevent soil from washing away and keeping the microbes in the soil alive and happy.
It was bold to ask for funding in a state just recovering from a budget crisis. Kathy and others stepped up. We got to work on a campaign in coalition with American Farmland Trust.
Kathy and farmer leaders shared their stories to educate agency officials, lawmakers, sent emails and made calls, and recruited other farmers to join.
Kathy shared her story in an op-ed in her local paper urging state leaders to invest in the program. “We started planting cover crops – 20 acres at first, and now on every acre possible,” she wrote in the State Journal-Register. “Our yields are steady, we’re saving money, and we’re having more fun farming than we have in years.”
They won! The state budget included $300,000 for the Fall Covers for Spring Savings program. This year, 212 farmers will be rewarded for planting 50,000 acres in cover crops– 70% are first-time cover croppers. Their cover crops will keep 3,898 truckloads of sediment out of waterways and remove the carbon dioxide equivalent of 5,163 passenger cars from the road.
We have more work to do. You can support the Soil Health Caucus bringing together Alliance members who use soil health practices, build a supportive community, develop their leadership and voice, educate policymakers, and grow the movement for soil health.
Our annual fundraiser is going on now until October 11th! Make a donation to help us reach our fundraising goal of $20,000.