Henry County farmer Gary Asay raises livestock and grows corn and soybeans. In addition, he plants cover crops in those same fields. The crops – like rye grass and cereal rye – go into the ground after the main crop is harvested in the fall. They continue to grow until the planting season next spring.

Cover crops help build organic matter and reduce soil erosion. Most importantly, they hold nutrients (fertilizer) in place for the next year’s crop. Without them, nutrients not used by corn and soybean plants can leave farm fields and enter streams, lakes and rivers, where they might harm water quality.

Asay’s story is one of 50 in a new online resource, the Conservation Story Map. The Map includes videos and photos of the many ways farmers protect soil and water. Users can search the Map by stewardship method, locale, type of project, or by farm, conservation and other groups that provide funding and support.

The land and water benefit when nutrients stay where they belong. Farmers also gain. Asay gets the most out of the manure he injects and the commercial fertilizer he buys each year. He gets the best crop yield, ensures that his crops take up the maximum amount of nutrients possible and has fewer weeds to control.

Illinois farmers join cities, towns and others in working to improve water health. The state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy outlines the methods detailed on the Map. Released a year ago. The strategy aims to reduce by 45 percent the phosphorous and nitrate loads in the state’s waters from wastewater treatment plants and from urban and farm runoff. The strategy also speaks to the bigger picture – hundreds of square miles in the Gulf of Mexico impacted by excess nutrients that flow from upstream.

Farmers get help from the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (CBMP) in doing their part. CBMP is made up of farm groups and of businesses where farmers buy fertilizer. CBMP helps to identify stewardship practices that work, that are good for the environment and that make economic sense for farmers. The Council and its member groups promote stewardship practices among farmers. CBMP played a vital role in developing the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.

The best and latest science supports cover crops and the other techniques that the map features. How are other farmers in your area working to keep the land and water healthy? See and hear Gary Asay’s story and others at www.illinoiscbmp.org.

DeDecker is a board member of Illinois Pork Producers.

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