NASA Harvest partner, the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA), has released their annual data summary, The Business Case for Conservation, in which they highlight the results of five years of on-farm data collection demonstrating that conservation practices like reduced tillage and nutrient management can positively impact net farm income. The data summary is based on field-by-field agronomic management information collected from farmers by Specialists working for Precision Conservation Management (PCM), a farmer service program directed by ICGA. PCM was established in 2016 as a way to help farmers address water quality and soil health issues by providing previously unavailable financial information related to regional conservation practice adoption. PCM Specialists work directly with cooperating farmers to help them evaluate the costs and benefits of adopting new conservation methods. Aggregated and anonymized PCM data is analyzed by a team of researchers led by Laura Gentry [Director of Water Quality Research at ICGA] with a focus on understanding the needs and expertise of member farmers.
Video courtesy of Precision Conservation Management.
The data summary details how the PCM program is structured and its mission to help farmers understand environmental benefits and financial implications of conservation practice adoption. PCM focuses on in-field management practices, especially cover crops, reduced tillage, and nutrient management. General observations and recommendations for adjustments to current farming methods are included in the data summary based on the PCM farmer dataset. PCM uses the general recommendations to create a customized report (a Resource Analysis and Assessment Plan, or RAAP) for each individual farmer in the program, delivered by the PCM Specialist in February and March. In addition to specific conservation recommendations, the report provides information about local resource concerns and special opportunities for cost share and technical assistance that that farmer may find useful.
However, providing this data is only one piece of the puzzle. The authors note that long-held beliefs about current farming practices and the financial cost of adopting more sustainable methods must be put on hold in order to fully understand the broader cost-benefit analysis. Furthermore, they task readers “to consider that obtaining high yields, and the higher input costs that goal often requires, may not be the best economic or conservation model for Illinois farms and Illinois farm families.” Armed with the understanding that each farmer has unique needs and resources, the PCM program puts the necessary data directly into the hands of stakeholders so that they can make informed decisions regarding the potential adoption of conservation farming practices.
Read the full report to learn more about how the PCM program is working with farmers to address environmental concerns and the economic feasibility of more sustainable agriculture. NASA Harvest is proud to support these end-user-driven conservation efforts as part of our developing Sustainable and Regenerative Agriculture (SARA) Initiative.