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Country road with red barn, rolling hills, and farmland.

No tests in farm ‘meeting season’

NRCS Notes: Well, mostly no tests! And there is a lot of good stuff to learn.

I have always loved to learn. And while you can learn a lot through observation and listening, to me, the most effective way of learning is when you have a good teacher who outright acknowledges, “I’m teaching you; here’s what I want you to learn.”

That’s pretty much the way our formal education process works. However, even though I like to learn, I didn’t really like school.

Why? Mainly, because I don’t like the stress of taking tests. In fact, even though they’re not as frequent as they used to be, I do still have that dream. You know, the one where you have to take a test and you can’t find the room, or you haven’t studied for it, or you never even went to that class.

I’m happy to say that after completing elementary school, high school, army training, college and graduate school, I am finally out of the formal education system. I no longer have to worry about taking tests. But I’m still a firm believer in the concept that you should always be in a learning mode. 

That’s why I love the winter “meeting season” that the ag industry has. I don’t know if other professions have the same kind of December-through-February perceived downtime that we have. During this period, hardly a day goes by when there isn’t some kind of annual meeting, symposium or conference going on. And even though we have our winter meeting season, there are plenty of other times of the year when you can get out to attend field days, tours and pasture walks, or even watch conservation practices being installed on farms or private land across the state.

Many people don’t realize that the Natural Resources Conservation Service doesn’t host many public meetings. Because of idiosyncrasies with use of federal funding, it’s difficult for us to host meetings. That’s why we rely on partners to serve as hosts. Often, we can create a sponsorship agreement, schedule staff to serve as speakers or presenters, or set up an information booth and offer registrants helpful program or technical information. Thank goodness we have so many great partners who share an interest in conservation, so we can meet these challenges by working together.

The Conservation Partners recently held three conservation cropping seminars, which were well-attended. NRCS also attended many local soil and water conservation district annual meetings; the Illinois Pork and Beef expos; meetings of the Illinois Corn Growers, Pheasants Forever, Illinois Soybean Association and Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association; Specialty Crop and Organic Conference — and that’s some of what’s happened in the last two months!

Not only do winter meetings help get important information to those who need it most, but they also provide an opportunity for people to interact with other individuals who share common interests or can offer new information or research on key topics. Everyone can benefit from learning new facts and seeing technological tools or options that help gather or use data in new and innovative ways. These meetings introduce us to new friends, colleagues, clients and ideas. They let us reconnect with good friends, as well.

Most of these meetings are free or have a modest registration fee. All these sessions are packed with opportunities to hear from interesting and knowledgeable speakers with cutting-edge information on topics that cover the A-to-Z’s of agriculture. 

I urge everyone to take advantage of the meeting season. It’s a great way to keep up on the latest trends and keep your learning experience going strong. You might even get a meal out of it! And best of all — there are no tests.

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

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