A new project launched by American Farmland Trust in Illinois' Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed will increase conservation activity, stabilize soils, and reduce the loss of nutrients from farm fields into waterways. 
In total, over the next five years, the project will provide farmers in the region with more than $1 million in cost-share and technical-assistance funding to implement conservation practices. 
Nutrient loading in Illinois waterways resulting from agricultural runoff is an issue that affects water quality throughout the region. In fact, Illinois is responsible for 20 percent of the nitrogen and 11 percent of the phosphorus that makes its way into the Mississippi River, and subsequently, the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, the Macoupin Creek watershed is one of the three highest phosphorus-yielding watersheds in Illinois, and farmers and landowners there are anxious to do something about it. 
"AFT learned just before Christmas that the Upper Macoupin Creek Watershed project was among 88 national proposals selected through the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional Conservation Partnership Program," said Jen Filipiak, AFT Associate Midwest Director. 
"The Macoupin Creek Watershed Partnership aims to reduce the loss of phosphorus and sediment to Macoupin Creek through the voluntary adoption of conservation practices that are known to perform," she continued. "Of these new federal funds, the majority-over $800,000-will go directly to farmers as financial assistance for installing and managing conservation practices in the watershed to stem the loss of phosphorous and sediment to Macoupin Creek. The remainder will fund additional technical assistance for watershed farmers." 
"The RCPP program is intended to bring diverse partners together to solve a common resource concern," Ivan Dozier, state conservationist at IL NRCS, said. "We were pleased to see AFT and 13 additional partners provide contributing resources to the shared resource concern of phosphorus loss." 
In addition to providing technical and financial assistance for soil-saving and nutrient-saving conservation practices, such as cover crops, conservation tillage and nutrient management, the partnership, led by AFT, will also address the need for expensive new equipment-a significant barrier to the adoption of water-quality practices. Local retailers CHS-Shipman and M&M Service Company are partnering with Environmental Tillage Systems to offer reduced-rate custom tillage with the "SoilWarrior" system. SoilWarrior can apply multiple conservation practices-including strip tillage, nutrient placement and cover crop seeding-all in one pass. 
Included in this watershed and eligible for support are farmers in the traditionally underserved African-American community of Royal Lakes. 
The project will also raise awareness of soil lost from unmanaged forestlands through the establishment of a forest-management demonstration site, in partnership with Blackburn College in Carlinville. 
This project is supported by an NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program award. With $1 million of new federal funds targeted to the Upper Macoupin Creek watershed, combined with an additional $1.2 million in contributing funds from AFT and 13 partners, the watershed partnership aims to show measurable improvements in water quality by 2019.