CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 5/30/17: Agricultural producers are typically blamed for applying fertilizer that pollutes local waters and carries oxygen-depleting nitrogen and phosphorus to the northern Gulf of Mexico. However, a strong majority of Illinois farmers believe they are doing their part to protect the environment, according to a study from the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI).
Scientists in PRI’s Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) surveyed 910 Illinois farmers about their beliefs and actions regarding land conservation. Producers’ values and beliefs are significant factors in determining whether they will participate in agriculture conservation programs, according to Craig Miller, INHS human dimensions scientist. These programs pay farmers to remove land from production. In 2015, 57 percent of survey respondents had been enrolled in a program at some point, and 35 percent were currently enrolled.
Farmers who felt an emotional connection to the land and strongly believed that they are responsible for protecting water quality on their land were more likely to be enrolled in a set-aside program.
“The income that farmers receive from these programs is much lower than they would earn if the land was in production,” Miller said. “Nevertheless, slightly less than half of the farmers enrolled in a program said they would continue their conservation practices even if they were not getting paid to do so.”
In comparison, producers who valued their right to make their own land management decisions were less likely to participate in a program. These survey respondents felt that conservation programs give the government too much control.
Even among producers who were not enrolled in a program, 79 percent used grassed waterways for conservation, 25 percent used filter strips, and 20 percent used stream buffers. These practices help to prevent or reduce chemical runoff into streams and rivers.
The survey also showed that 89 percent agreed that they are responsible for decreasing fertilizer runoff to streams, and 84 percent agreed that farmers are doing their part to protect water quality.
A majority of respondents also agreed that if more farmers used conservation tillage, water quality in Illinois and in the Gulf of Mexico would improve. Conservation tillage reduces soil erosion and chemical use.
Overall, farmers felt responsible for their personal land and local waters.
“Farmers are doing what they can within the confines of making a living off the land,” Miller said. “They care about the environment, and they realize the role that they play in protecting it.”
The Big River/Tallgrass Prairie Landscape Conservation Cooperative funded the study.
Media contacts: Craig Miller, 217-244-0691, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327, email@example.com