The Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership has launched an interactive Conservation Story Map to showcase sustainable agriculture efforts across the state and tell the stories of farmers, service providers, conservation specialists, ongoing research, and demonstration sites that are successfully adopting, exploring, or promoting conservation cropping systems and conservation drainage management.
Visit our story map to meet Adam Braun, a fourth-generation farmer in Vandalia, IL, growing corn and soybeans on the bluffs of a small, but mighty river in Fayette County. Growing up on the family farm in the 1980’s, he witnessed the hardships impacting many farming communities across the Midwest, including at home where his father and uncle ran the family farm.
Because of those challenges, Adam wasn’t always sure there was a future in farming for him, but after going to school and working off the farm earlier in his career, he came back to the farm in 2011. With his engineering background and commitment to land stewardship, he began making changes to advance conservation and continue to build soil health. He began moving the farm towards no-till and planted cover crops on 40 acres in his first year.
After a very successful first year of growing annual rye grass as a cover crop, he tried again the following year with “disastrous” results. Adam pivoted away from annual rye and tried cereal rye instead because he heard from other farmers that it was easier to manage. Overtime, he has expanded the number of species he uses and the acreage he plants. He now plants, in his own words, “a beautiful mix” of triticale, oats, Balansa clover, and radishes on a significant number of fields on his farm.
Adam’s evolution of cover crops is reflective of his soil health journey as a whole. “If I can make things work on smaller scale,” he shared, “then I start scaling it up to the whole operation.” Starting small, finding success, and then expanding to additional acres allows Adam to gain a solid understanding of how individual practices can be integrated into an overall soil health system on his farm. “I’m a systems builder, that’s just the nature of who I am,” shared Adam. “And I really enjoy integrating no-till and cover crops into my overall farming system.”
Adam is a curious person by nature – he wants to understand concepts from a big-picture perspective, figuring out how to do things most efficiently and identifying how to improve any given process. In 2019, Adam took the opportunity to fuel his curiosity and expand his soil health knowledge by enrolling in ISAP’s Advanced Soil Health Training. Through the training, Adam enjoyed learning about the science behind soil health, networking with other like-minded farmers and agricultural practitioners, and being exposed to fresh ideas from other parts of the state.
Adam’s advice for farmers who want to try something new on their farm is to “get out of your own little bubble or your own little world.” Adam suggests that the answers to your questions might not be found down the road, but instead in other regions of Illinois or even the broader Midwest. “A lot of times, when folks are doing things outside of your own little area, you can bring them back and incorporate into what you’re doing yourself.”
ISAP’s new Conservation Story Map was created to do just that. By exploring the Farmer Profiles layer of the Story Map, you can meet farmers across Illinois who are leading the way in conservation agriculture. Whether the farmer is in your county or on the opposite side of the state, they’ve likely experimented, adjusted, and refined their cropping systems to build a soil health system that works best for their farm. All the farmers on the Story Map are willing to share their stories – the challenges they’ve faced and the success they’ve found – through their own conservation agriculture journey.
Every farmer’s experience is different, and ISAP’s Conservation Story Map showcases the multitude of ways that farmers across the state can contribute to building healthy soil and protecting Illinois’ clean waterways.
You can explore the Conservation Story Map on ISAP’s website to get in touch with farmers and conservation agriculture specialists, explore research and demonstration sites evaluating the impact of conservation practices, and find a service provider near you who can support your transition to a conservation cropping system.
Are you a leader in conservation agriculture in Illinois? Add your own pin to the map to help tell the story of state-wide efforts to support healthy soil, clean water, and profitable farms in Illinois!