CHAMPAIGN — Will Glazik, a Central Illinois farmer, has had good luck finding helpful people and information when he attends field days and farm meetings. That’s how he met his landlady and how he gets more ideas about operating a sustainable farm.
Glazik met his future landlady, Jaci Davis, at a summer field day near Rantoul last year. He’s a certified crop advisor, and they started talking about cover crops and soil health at the meeting.
He was surprised to see a photograph of that field day in a presentation at the 2016 Conservation Cropping Seminar Jan. 26 in Champaign.
The seminar focused on helping farmers and landowners connect in talking about conservation practices.
That field day was one of several events Jaci Davis, who owns 160 acres her parents once farmed near Paxton, attended last year. She was looking for more information about soil-friendly farming practices.
“I was not happy about so many chemicals being used,” said Davis, a Ford County landowner.
Davis and Glazik signed their agreement about six months ago and are transitioning into organic grains on her farm.
Davis, a scientist, is excited about some of the experimenting Glazik is planning to do.
She is among the 38 percent of women landowners in the U.S. The number is even higher in Illinois, Jennifer Filipiak, associate Midwest director of the American Farmland Trust, said at the Champaign seminar.
Many are women who inherited land from family members, who want to be able to ask questions and get advice.
“They need to make connections with people who can answer questions,” said Filipiak, who works with women landowners who often say they aren’t uncomfortable going to USDA offices and technical seminars because they don’t want to be “dismissed” if they don’t know all the correct terminology.
Filipiak leads “Women Caring for the Land” workshops where women landowners share their experiences and learn about conservation practices during field days. Since 2011, such events have reached more than 230 Illinois women landowners in 11 counties who own more than 45,000 acres. More events are planned for this year.
In Illinois, 60 percent of the farmland is leased, that’s more than in any of the contiguous 48 states. The average time a farm is leased to the same person is 18.7 years.
“These are long-term relationships,” Filipiak said.
Also, at the conservation cropping day, farmers learned details of soil structure and health.
Jennifer Moore-Kucera, an associate professor of soil and environmental microbiology at Texas Tech University, talked about new tools being developed to help measure and manage soil health.
It can take decades to see a change in biomass. New tools will help farmers get a better understanding of their soil sooner “so they don’t have to wait 10 years to see if things are going the right way,” when trying new practices, she said.
Roger Windhorn, a retired NRCS employee, said soil tests are site specific at a moment in time.
“All these tests should be done multiple times,” to get a fuller picture of soil health, he said.
Farmers were encouraged to share their knowledge, not only with each other, but also to let the public know what they are doing to manage the soil and water.
Carolyn Wade, nutrient watershed manager for Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) and the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, told farmers it is important to let the public know what they are doing to address water quality issues and to meet the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy plan.
“A lot of people are saying Illinois farmers are not doing anything (to address water quality). We can show we care and farmers are doing our fair share,” she said.
For example, more than 1,000 farmers attended Illinois Council Best Management Practices’ road shows last year to learn about ways to reduce nutrient loss. The Illinois Farm Bureau has set aside $100,000 for small projects and the ICGA offers water testing.
“It’s not enough to do great things, we need to be willing to show what we do,” Wade said.