Last week we had a great time hanging out at Riggs Brewery, drinking beers and talking soil and nutrient retention with more than 40 of our region’s row crop farmers and farmland owners. The purpose was threefold:
- Grow your local network of farmers that you can turn to for insight and advice.
- Learn about the different conservation practices being used by your peers and neighbors.
- Have a good time!
And we did! Together we talked tillage, rotations, cover crops, and all things grain. We talked about challenges surrounding timing and termination of cover crops, experiences with double cropping, and recognizing compaction and infiltration effects. We drank great beer and listened to great tunes provided by Luke Rund. And we talked about how folks can use the S.T.A.R. (Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources) tool developed by our very own Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District to assess how their current practices affect their land’s ability to retain soil and nutrients.
S.T.A.R. uses a field form to gather information about individual fields for a given crop year. The system assigns points for each cropping, tillage, nutrient application, and soil conservation activity on an individual field. The summary of those points assigns that field a “Star Rating” of one to five stars and comes with suggested practices that can increase the rating. The field is also given a sign to publicly display its Star rating.
Matt Riggs, co-owner of Riggs Brewery, spoke about his own experience assessing his practices on the wheat field adjacent to the brewery. While the Riggs’ fields incorporate a variety of conservation practices, Matt talked about how the S.T.A.R. process had helped him to recognize opportunities for improvement in his fields. He also talked about the importance of sharing our experiences and knowledge with each other, especially within our local geographies. He explained how individually we are dealing with a lot of the same issues in very similar contexts, and we can really help each other by sharing what we’ve learned from our own experiments in our operations.
And we agree with Matt. We plan to host more events like this one in the future to provide the space to make new connections and have these conversations. Stay tuned for more on that! In the meantime, if you want to learn more about S.T.A.R. and best management practices for soil and nutrient retention, join TLC, Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District, and Champaign County Farm Bureau at two upcoming conservation practices events:
March 3, 7:30-9:30 a.m. at Champaign Co. Farm Bureau
- Learn about conservation management practices, landowner/tenant conversations about conservation, and cost-share opportunities!
- Speakers: Abigail Peterson, Soil Health Partnership; Jonathan Coppess, University of Illinois; Kevin Donoho, USDA-NRCS Champaign
March 10, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at PARKLAND Community College
- FAMILY FUN & LEARNING! Visit Parkland’s cover crop plots, hear from and ask questions of experts in conservation, and enjoy agricultural crafts and fun for the kids!
We hope that you can join us! And if you have ideas for conversations, workshops, or other opportunities you wish you could access in our region, drop me a note with your suggestions, email@example.com. I’m always open to new ideas!