Approaching Deadline for STAR Field Enrollment

Approaching Deadline for STAR Field Enrollment

By: Sarah Blount, Helen VanBeck, & Erin Gundy

It’s that time of year again—the weather is cooler, harvest season has ended, and the Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) field form submission deadline is quickly approaching!

Enrollment for the STAR 2021 crop year closes on January 31 — complete your field evaluation today to receive your STAR Rating! To get started, visit www.starfreetool.com or contact your local soil and water conservation district.

STAR is a free, confidential tool which supports farm operators and landowners as they evaluate their nutrient and soil loss management practices. The goal of STAR is to encourage the continued adoption of conservation practices and recognize farmers for their commitment to building soil health and reducing nutrient loss.

For farmers and landowners, the STAR initiative provides a clear roadmap to increased farm resiliency and improved soil health, helping users to show their stewardship while providing conservation professionals with a consistent benchmark to assess progress toward local conservation goals.

The STAR evaluation system assigns points for field-specific management activities on an annual basis. Scores are converted to a STAR Rating of 1 to 5 STARs, with 5 STARs indicating commitment to a suite of practices proven to improve soil health and water quality. The most common practices used by 5-STAR farmers in 2020 were:

  • Applied P at or below removal rates
  • Planted winter hardy cover crop
  • Used no-till or strip-till
  • Did not apply fall N

 

NEW THIS YEAR: Submit field evaluation using STAR Web App

The STAR Progressive Web App was launched in 2021 to simplify field form submission and streamline conservation planning. After completing the field evaluation, users receive their STAR Rating in real-time and can easily send their results to their inbox with the click of a mouse.

The STAR Web App offers farmers and landowners an efficient way to automate data entry for multiple fields seamlessly on their phones, desktops, or tablets. Rather than completing a PDF or written form for each field and filing with the county’s STAR scorer, farmers can set up a simple profile on the web application and enter multiple fields quickly and easily.

“The new STAR Web App allows users to create customized field improvement plans, connect with local resources and technical assistance, and share their STAR Ratings with their online communities with a few simple clicks,” explains Erin Gundy, Resource Conservationist for Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The web application shows a whole-farm perspective after analyzing field information to see where potential improvements can be made. It also allows users to save time and effort through the ease of copying answers from one field form to another for similar fields instead of starting fresh each time. The questions make the forms easy to understand and complete, using simple functions such as: yes or no, select all that apply, and drag-and-drop formats.

 

Sample overview of farm-level view (left); tabular list of fields (right)

 

Once all field forms are completed, users are given the opportunity to create an improvement plan for any field that does not receive a 5 STAR Rating. Users can indicate any topics they would like to learn more about and review additional points they could receive for incorporating those practices in the next crop year. The STAR report and improvement plan can then be emailed directly to the user to keep for their records or to share with their landowner or farm advisor.

 

Nutrient Applications evaluation screen (left); STAR Rating with prompt to create Improvement Plan (right)

 

To learn more about the STAR program and access the online web app, visit www.starfreetool.com. The updated 2021 Field Form for Illinois can also be accessed directly on the STAR website. If you have any questions on the program, please contact Erin Gundy at info@starfreetool.com.

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