Becky Doyle

Becky Doyle

A problem as old as dirt

By Becky Doyle

Most Illinoisans do not realize that the most important resource in our state is right under their feet.

Illinois soils are more appreciated globally than they are right here at home. Long valued for their world-class productive capacity, our soils are now also known to be capable of:

  • Protecting water quality.
  • Providing habitat and ecosystem diversity.
  • Sequestering atmospheric carbon by supporting abundant plant growth that results in carbon dioxide absorption and storage.

Back in 1937, the Illinois Legislature recognized the importance of protecting Illinois’ greatest assets by creating local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, then supporting them with state funding. The work of those districts dramatically changed the way farmers and others managed land, rainwater and surface water supplies. Over that same time frame, the legislature supported research that provided best soil management methods and the extension of that knowledge throughout the state.

GSWNH BeckyDoyle 040822

Becky Doyle

That system provided the framework for valuable work during the 20th century, and Illinois achieved the national challenge of “T by 2000”, limiting soil loss throughout the state to the level at which it replaces itself.

But, over the past two decades, state funding for these valuable programs has been reduced, while the challenges have become greater. Besides the stresses brought on by strong storms and periods of drought, we now know that it is not enough to just prevent soil loss. We must also improve and protect soil health to achieve the greatest benefits to our environment and society.

Just as with human and animal health, soil health requires focused, managed care. Farmers and landowners are willing to provide that care with improved management practices, but they need advice and credible information to guide and support their efforts.

Fortunately, Illinois citizens and the General Assembly can invest in our soil’s future at a relatively low cost by assuring passage of Senate Bill 3471. Once the bill is passed and funded, we will be able to better protect the health and beneficial capacity of Illinois soils through:

  • Rebuilding support of the county Soil and Water Conservation Districts to a level that allows them to meet 21stcentury challenges.
  • Funding innovative programs that promote cover crops and other soil health management practices (i.e., Fall Covers for Spring Savings).
  • Promoting soil health and water quality protection through the Partners for Nutrient Loss Reduction Act

Like clear air and clean water, soil health is important to all. Stewardship of our soils is a legacy project for which we can all be proud, and for which future generations will be grateful. The strategic support provided by Senate Bill 3471 will get us back on that legacy track.

Becky Doyle, of Gillespie, was director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture from 1991 to 1999.

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