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Challenges to nutrient loss reduction in Illinois

Farmers have made conservation headway through the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy since 2011, but there are still big challenges hindering recent progress.  

During a virtual Illinois Conservation Cropping Seminar Joel Gruver with Western Illinois University says the state has already reached 14% nitrogen loss reduction with the goal of 15% by 2025 and reached 22% phosphorus loss reduction with the goal of 25% by 2025. But he says there have been higher levels of loss in recent years, mainly from drivers farmers cannot control.  

“One of the biggest drivers is probably not what is being done specifically in terms of farm management, but rather the weather. We have had more intense precipitation that may be driving higher nutrient losses.”

He says other drivers include the growth of more corn to fuel ethanol demand and tighter margins hindering farmers from investing in conservation tools like tile. Gruver says one solution is to help make cover crops a more profitable option for farmers.

“We know that they work. When we make cover crops profitable, we will take care of both nutrient losses and soil health at the same time.”

Gruver says this is especially important in Illinois since the state is the number one source of nitrogen and phosphorus making it down to the Gulf of Mexico with about 80% of the nitrogen and 50% of the phosphorus coming from agriculture.

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