Sponsored By
Prairie Farmer Logo

Legislature offers glimmer of conservation hopeLegislature offers glimmer of conservation hope

Illinois General Assembly votes to double funding for soil and water conservation districts, where technical staff has been decimated by funding cuts over the past decade.

Holly Spangler

June 17, 2021

3 Min Read
field of soybean seedlings
CONSERVATION: Soil and water conservation districts have finally caught a funding break, with $8.5 million appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly to specifically fund district operations. Photos by Holly Spangler

Conservation fared well in the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, as lawmakers renewed the Partners for Conservation program for another year and nearly doubled Illinois’ conservation budget to $15 million. That’s up from $7.5 million in 2020 and 2019.

“It’s important to note how important of a change this is,” says Grant Hammer, executive director of the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts. He adds the entire appropriation for SWCDs sat at $7.5 million in 2019 and in 2020 — slightly less than 1997’s appropriation level of $7.7 million.

“In other words, SWCDs have grappled with the natural resource and environmental issues of today’s modern world on fewer dollars than those of 1997,” Hammer explains.

Breaking down that $15 million, $8.5 million will fund SWCD operations, and $3 million will fund cost-share programs for farm operators. Legislators also added $3.5 million in new funding for implementing nutrient loss reduction strategies.

The Partners for Conservation fund is the financial vehicle in Illinois that funds various conservation programs, including those within Illinois EPA, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Agriculture and SWCDs.


BIG WIN: Securing $15 million in state funding for Illinois conservation this spring was huge, but AISWCD Executive Director Grant Hammer says, “The real prize is that a coalition of different conservation groups were successful in getting that $3.5 million appropriation in dedicated funding for Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy implementation.”

The budget impasse years were tough, Hammer says.

“That put a lot of stress on the conservation delivery infrastructure,” he says. And it put a lot of importance on getting a bill passed in 2021.

Hammer says while the previous version of the Partners for Conservation program provided funds for 10 years (known as Conservation 2000), this version was schedule to sunset on June 30, 2021. Last year, AISWCD supported a bill that would have extended it, but the bill was tabled due to COVID-19 and lawmakers’ three-day session.

“Time was working against us this year to renew the program, and luckily we got it done,” Hammer says. “The districts and conservation fared really well.”

Conservation advocates will be back at the table again next year, however, because lawmakers only renewed the program for one year. “We’ll have to look at extending it for a longer time,” he adds.



Funding recap

Here’s a look at the latest conservation funding in Illinois:

2019. Illinois General Assembly passed Fall Covers for Spring Savings program, a pilot cover crop reward program. Initial funding was for $300,00 for 50,000 cover crop acres. Appropriated $7.5 million for Partners for Conservation ($4.5 million for SWCDs and $3 million cost share).

2020. Conservation advocates helped draft legislation to renew Partners for Conservation beyond 2021, fund SWCDs and add nutrient loss reduction strategies to the program. The bill languished during COVID-19. Appropriated $7.5 million for Partners for Conservation ($4.5 million for SWCDs and $3 million cost share).

2021. Legislature directed $15 million for Partners for Conservation ($3 million for cost share, $8.5 million for SWCDs, $3.5 million in new funding for Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy implementation).

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like