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Illinois Farm Families Teach Dietitians About Soil Health

Illinois farm families
During a tour of his farm in Esmond, Illinois, Paul Taylor helped explain a rainfall simulator to show dietitians and health professionals how different agronomic practices impact soil health and runoff.

Illinois Farm Families (IFF) is a group of farmer volunteers committed to answering questions about what happens on today’s farms. The IFF along with experts from Soil Health Partnership hosted 15 dietitians on a tour of Paul Taylor’s farm in Esmond, Illinois.

Taylor, who grows peas and sweet corn for canning, field corn and soybeans, explained why farmers invest in soil health and conservation practices. The group learned about soil health and its impact on food security and the environment.

“Farmland and topsoil are our most important assets,” Taylor said. “Illinois has some of the most productive farmland in the world, and we’re doing everything we can to not only maintain it, but restore it.”

He shared soil conservation practices that have been most successful. For Taylor, these practices include: rotating crops, which means changing what is grown in each field, each year, to keep soil fertile and protect against weeds and pests building up; and planting cover crops that are not harvested but keep soil in place over the winter and also help to reduce runoff.

The dietitians discovered that these methods are used on both organic and conventional farms, which surprised some in the group. Thanks to a rainfall simulator, they also learned how different agronomic practices such as tilling the soil, leaving plant residue on the ground after harvest, planting cover crops impact soil erosion and water runoff.

After the tour, the dietitians said they felt more knowledgeable about soil health, crop production and farmers’ role in a sustainable food system. Future tours on additional food and farm topics will be offered by IFF, based in Bloomington, Illinois.

IFF are farmers who support Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program, Illinois Beef Association and Midwest Dairy Association through farmer-funded checkoff or membership programs. More than 96 percent of Illinois farms are family-owned and -operated.

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