Champaign County Farm Recognized for Dedication to Land Stewardship

The Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership (ISAP) was a proud sponsor of the 2023 Illinois Leopold Conservation Award, an award program sponsored by the Sand County Foundation that recognizes and celebrates extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation by agricultural landowners. 

Rademacher Farms was selected as a 2023 Leopold Conservation Award Finalist in Illinois. Frank Rademacher farms about 600 acres with his dad, Eric, in Champaign County, Illinois. The Rademachers transitioned their farm to 100% no-till with cover crops terminated with herbicides and roller crimping before corn and soybean crops to improve water quality and soil health. The Rademachers provide outreach to farmers, ag retailers, farm managers, and non-operating landowners to explain how conservation practices help them maximize profit while minimizing environmental impact.

Off the farm, Frank is a Conservation Agronomist with The Nature Conservancy and an active contributor to ISAP’s programs and resource development. Frank recently co-led the creation of ISAP’s Introduction to Soil Health Practices, a guidebook explaining how in-field practices and address resource concerns. Frank is also a Certified Crop Advisor and Technical Service Provider in the state of Illinois.

ISAP sat down with Frank Rademacher to talk about his experience as a conservation-minded farmer in Illinois, what advice he has for farmers who may be interested in using conservation practices on their farm, and what it means to him to be a “good farmer.”

What motivates you to promote conservation and land stewardship in Illinois agriculture?

The importance of conservation and land stewardship is not going away. As someone who has helped not only our own farm adopt and see the benefits of increasing conservation, but other farms as well, being a guide to help others find that personal blueprint of conservation practices is very rewarding. Personally, we’ve found more and more benefits from conservation over time. In the early days, the initial benefit of labor and equipment savings was clear, but as our practices have evolved, we’ve particularly enjoyed seeing our fields develop into a healthier ecosystem that provides benefits both on and off our land.

Why do you think more farmers aren’t using practices like cover crops and no-till?

When it comes to changing practices, there can be several internal and external challenges farmers face. These challenges may be different even for neighboring farms, let alone farms at the opposite end of a state. While some of the stigma of trying, and potentially failing, with a new practice has lifted and more financial assistance is available now than ever before, each farm may continue to face unique equipment, agronomic, or even interpersonal barriers to changing practices. This really drives home the importance of finding the right resources and, if possible, local support from farmers who have experienced the same transition.

What advice do you have for other farmers who may be interested in implementing conservation management practices on their farms?

For any kind of practice change, you can’t have enough resources, especially local ones. Networking through local soil health meetings and talking to your NRCS/SWCD office can be a great way to find people who are willing to share their time and experiences. ISAP has a suite of resources available to beginners, from resource guides on how to get started with conservation, to guides that help navigate cost-share and carbon market programs, to a Conservation Story Map that can be used to find local farmers, service providers, and researchers with conservation experience in your area.

What do you think it means to be a good farmer?

I think that is a question that each farmer would answer differently, and also informs how different operations see their role and adoption of conservation. For our operation, I feel successful when we constantly refine our operation, based on a mix of our on-farm experiences and what we learn from others, to meet our profit goals while also meeting our environmental goals. When we can use conservation as a tool to grow crops with less synthetic inputs compared to other local operations but with similar profitability, while metrics like tile water tests show our water quality easily meeting drinking water standards, I feel that we’ve hit that successful balance of running a profitable and sustainable operation.

Learn more about Frank’s farm by exploring his profile on ISAP’s Conservation Story Map. Click the following links to meet the other Leopold Conservation Award Finalist, Jean Stewart, and 2023 Award Recipient, the Frey Family Farm, on ISAP’s website.

If you are a conservation ag leader in your community or you work with a conservation champion who is dedicated to leaving their land better than how they found it, nominations and applications are now being accepted for the 2024 Illinois Leopold Conservation Award.

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ISAP Coordinator