CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — You’ve probably seen signs for the national S.T.A.R. program along fields in Central Illinois. The program originated with two farmers in Champaign County. One was Steve Stierwalt.

“My personal passion is agriculture and the need to protect this resource so that future generations can enjoy this tremendous resource we have here,” Stierwalt said.

That is why he was integral in creating a national conservation program.

“When Joe Rothermel and I started what we call S.T.A.R., Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources, we had an idea and we were wanting to do something to protect this agricultural resource,” Stierwalt said.

Jeff Martin and his sons who farm around Mt. Pulaski received the national S.T.A.R. award last year.

“It’s designed to encourage people to look into what they can do to improve their farm, their specific farm, their specific field to be environmentally friendly,” Martin said.

Marty Marr, who farms near Jacksonville, is driven toward conservation practices because of the need.

“With all the climate issues that have come to the forefront these days and the environmental concerns and everything, we’ve done, like many farms, have been involving more and more conservation all the time,” Marr said.

Near Fairbury, Jim Ifft is a widely recognized leader all types of conservation farming.

“The benefits way more outweigh the cost,” Ifft said. “Some years we have increased yields. We almost always have reduced herbicide expense. And we’re starting, on those farms that have been in the program the longest, we’re starting to reduce fertilizer inputs without sacrificing yield. So we don’t buy into the theory that conservation costs us money. We think it makes us money.”