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IL Budget Crunch Leaves Ag Conservation Funds in Danger

Illinois News Connection

Some Illinois farmers say they want to help protect natural resources, but incentives are crucial to making that happen.

A coalition tied to these efforts says lawmakers can't allow a key funding source to fall through the cracks.
As the General Assembly tries to meet its Monday budget deadline, agriculture and conservation groups are asking for more robust funding for a program that offers grants for improving soil health. It's due to expire this summer if lawmakers don't act.

Champaign-area farmer Steve Steirwalt, who uses methods such as cover crops, said not having an extra incentive for these practices could turn some producers off to the movement.

"It's difficult to get us farmers to adopt different practices that we don't know very well," he said. "it's going to take us some years to really learn because that introduces risk, and that's one of the few things that we can control is our practices."

Supporters are calling for an increase of $4 million for the program. While there's no clear opposition, the pandemic recovery and redistricting are commanding more attention as state budget talks wind down.

Liz Rupel, policy organizer for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said more money for the Partners for Conservation Fund could help the state more aggressively meet the goals outlined for a strategy to reduce harmful runoff from farms.

"As far as the wastewater side of things, we're doing OK," she said, "but the agriculture side, we do need some more work."

The goals, established in 2015, call for a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus going into Illinois waterways by 2025. The ten groups that make up the coalition are asking lawmakers to include the proposal in any final spending plan. And while Illinois' revenues have rebounded, the state still faces a deficit of $1.3 billion.

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