Illinois hiring 40 new conservation specialists to help farmers with smart conservation practices

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(The Center Square) – The Illinois Department of Agriculture is hiring to help farmers and landowners in conservation efforts.

The Illinois Natural Resources Conservation Service from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has put together federal funding to match with state funding to hire 40 “boots on the ground” conservation practitioners who will work for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The new hires will work with soil and water conservation districts across the state to walk through conservation practices on a one-to-one basis with farmers in their fields.

Paige E. Buck, state public affairs specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told The Center Square that farmers are asking for technical help in implementing conservation practices and there currently is a waiting list.

Some farmers need financial assistance to help pay for materials and structures or the contractors they need to get the work done. Others just need inspiration.

“We give them the idea and they run with it and get it done,” she said. “They come back to us and say, ‘What can I do next?’”

Brochures, phone calls and videos are helpful, but Buck said having experts who visit farms, providing technical assistance and answering questions, takes the process to the next level.

“Our people go out and look around. They survey the land. They design things. We have engineers,” Buck said. “We want farmers to develop a relationship with a conservation professional, right there in their county. That person is a go-to person who farmers can call.”

No one cares about the land more than the farmers who work it, Buck said. But best practices are evolving.

“A lot of times farmers say, ‘this is what Grandpa did. That is the way Dad did it.’ But there might be a new way that can save some fuel, prevent erosion, save some money,” Buck said. “Climate-smart practices are advancing all the time.”

Making Money with Soil Health is a presentation that was given by Dr. Stacy Zuber at the annual Conservation Cropping Seminar held this past January in Springfield.

“One of the things that we are most excited about here is soil health,” Buck said.

There is only so much soil and it is a constant challenge to keep soil healthy and productive, she said.

“There are a lot of things that farmers can do to keep the microbiology alive in the soil,” Buck said. “That makes the soil more resistant to all the crazy things that production agriculture and weather can do to it.”

Outside of Belleville, Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello has designated the 100-acre Henry White farm as a conservation demonstration project.

“This will be an area where people can come on site and see how these climate-smart agricultural practices actually work,” Costello told Brownfield, the NRCS publication.

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February 3, 2023 at 05:49PM

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