“A lot of people, the general population, think that farmers, we’re just out here planting crops and we don’t care about the environment, when nothing could be further from the truth,” says Pete Fandel, an Associate Professor at Illinois Central College (ICC).
Using farmland in East Peoria, he helps teach students best practices for the business and the planet.
“If they have a little better understanding on how all these practices work, that makes the future as far as their understanding of how we can protect the environment kind of tied right to that next generation that’s gonna be doing that type of thing,” Fandel explains.
That protection comes in the form of cover crops, water nutrient testing, buffer zones and no till practices. Fandel is a state expert on cover crops.
He says, “If I go out and speak at a meeting, I’m only gonna talk to whatever the people that are sitting in the chairs at that time. But if we have a website up where people can go look at different farmers that are doing different practices, adopting these things on their farm, anybody at their convenience can go look at these farmers and see what they’re doing.”
Cover crops are used in between main plantings (like corn or soybeans) to help stop erosion and nutrient runoff. ICC used cereal rye through the winter.
“You’re now making it more like a native environment, where there’s a plant growing there year round. The microbial activity in the soil’s healthier, you have a higher level of organic matter. All those things then correspond basically to higher yield increases,” Fandel says.
Limiting nutrient runoff is especially important when you look down-stream. He says, “A lot of this research is looking at how do we take that nitrates and phosphorous out of the tile water, or out of the ground water or surface water. So preventing it from getting into the IL River and then into the Gulf of Mexico.”
Fandel also says Illinois is considered one of the biggest contributors to nitrates in the Gulf.
Water quality monitoring stations are set up on the edge of the farmland. This is the first year he’s been able to collect data, but so far, the results seem promising.