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Master Farmers are conservation champions

NRCS Notes: From pioneering no-till to addressing today’s nutrient management challenges, Master Farmers lead the way in conservation efforts.

The sports action gets hot this time of year, even though cold weather is still hanging around. We’ve seen a new football champion crowned in the Super Bowl, and now basketball teams all around the state are vying to prove they are worthy of being named among the best. It’s good to be at the top of your game, and it’s even better when your peers and colleagues recognize your accomplishments.

And so it is with the announcement of this year’s Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. (Editor’s note: Check back on March 1 to meet the 2018 Master Farmers.)  

Even before I started my career in agriculture, I can remember reading my dad’s Master Farmer edition of Prairie Farmer. I loved seeing those folks on the cover and reading the profiles of their lives and businesses.  I would imagine how their operations compared with what we were doing on the farm, and see if there were any parallels or new ideas. It was pretty exciting if one of the Master Farmers was from our area, and even a bigger thrill if we knew him.

After I started working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, I got the opportunity to offer input on the conservation section of the Master Farmer selection process. First off, I was pleased to see there WAS a conservation aspect included, and I was impressed that Prairie Farmer had already taken that into account for a Master Farmer designation. I’ve gone from being thrilled to know some of the honorees to having the great honor of working with and learning from them. In their write-ups, I see the majority include conservation activities as something they are very proud of on their farm. I also like the trend of including more family members in the recognition. It demonstrates a real commitment to teaching the next generation and making conservation part of the farm’s legacy.

The new technologies adopted by these farmers have been fascinating to me. I’ve noticed the same trend in conservation practices touted over the years. I remember the stories about the innovative no-tillers of the ’70s and early ’80s. Then I started to see terraces, Conservation Reserve Program and grassed waterways in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Now, I see experience with vegetative buffers, pollinator habitats and nutrient management. 

Just like the champions of the sports world, these farmers prove they are ready to step up and take on every challenge that comes their way. Thanks to Prairie Farmer for being a good sport by keeping this tradition of recognition alive for more than 80 years. And congratulations to this year’s Master Farmers for showing us they are still on top of their game.

Dozier is the Illinois state conservationist. Direct comments or questions to ivan.dozier@il.usda.gov.

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