Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)
Michelle French shares details on the STAR program in Champaign County and believes farmers know how to farm… let them do their thing.
ABOUT THE STAR PROGRAM:
Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) is a FREE nationwide tool to assist farm operators and land owners in evaluating their nutrient and soil loss management practices on individual fields. STAR encourages farmers and landowners to use management practices and make decisions that will reduce the nutrient and soil losses on their fields, and in return, they are provided recognition with a field sign recognizing their level of commitment to conservation. Ultimately, this program will help reduce the nutrient and soil losses from farmland over larger areas, and specifically the various water sheds, while engaging key stakeholders from all corners of the agriculture sector – retail, commodity, agency, and farmers. In addition, the practices encouraged by STAR will also result in improved soil health.
STAR was created by the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District, a not-for-profit government agency located in central Illinois. The program was developed in 2017 as a means to contribute to the important goals outlined in the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS), a plan developed jointly by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Since its creation, STAR has been adopted in many counties in Illinois by a multitude of organizations, including many soil and water conservation districts. Other states have also adopted STAR, including Iowa, Missouri, and Colorado to administer STAR in their area.
The initiative utilizes a simple field form that requests information from a farmer or non-operator landowner concerning individual fields for a given crop year. The STAR evaluation program assigns points for each cropping, tillage, nutrient application, and soil conservation activity on individual fields in addition to other “best management practices” as established by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA NRCS). STAR relies on the expertise of a science committee, made up of university researchers and other experts, to model ranking systems and ensure the field form is reflective of the specific and varying resource factors in the state. Once the field form is completed by a participant, the information is entered into a spreadsheet that assigns various points for the different practices used on that field. The summary of those points is then compared to a scale of points to give that field a “STAR Rating” of one to five stars.
The potential benefits to participating landowners and farm operators are numerous, and include:
- Decreased nutrient loss
- Promote a positive image of farmers and agriculture in your community
- Support the work of soil and water conservation districts across the nation
- Inspire other farmers and landowners to take action in helping to meet nutrient and sediment loss reduction goals
- Promote producers for new farmland leases
- Assist producers in securing local conservation cost share
- Assist producers in obtaining future market incentives for crops grown using conservation cropping practices.
- Assist producers in obtaining documentation in support of water quality issues