Illinois Still A Long Ways Off From Cover Crop Goal

Nov 25, 2019

Illinois is still two centuries away from hitting towards its goal of planting enough cover crops to make a significant dent in its nutrient pollution problem in waterways. 

That's according to a coalition of environmental groups responding to the state's recently-released biennial Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy report.

Liz Stelk is the executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. She hopes it opens the Pritzker administration's eyes about the high rate of water pollution. 

"As we continue at this rate, that they can see how it important it is that we invest, if we want to continue to have affordable, clean drinking water," Stelk said. 

Nutrient runoff from farms can promote blue algae growth. That depletes oxygen levels in the water and harms the ecosystem.

The state currently has about 710,000 acres of cover crops planted each winter to reduce runoff. The goal is to have 19 million acres planted by 2035.

"It's not always easy and it's certainly not free. One of the things as we look forward as to how can we speed up the production of cover crops so we can get closer to reaching our goals, it's going to take a lot of work," she said. 

Stelk said the state recently took a step in the right direction with a program that takes $5 dollars off crop insurance premiums for every acre of cover crops planted. But effects of the state's two-year budget impasse took a toll on other state conservation efforts. 

But she said over the long term, it'll take a more concerted effort at the state and federal levels to adopt more climate-conscious policies.