ICCON Discusses NLRS Challenges and Feasibility of Achieving Interim Goals

During the January ICCON call, the network had the pleasure of hosting Adrienne Marino, Water Quality Program Manager at the Nature Conservancy in Illinois. Marino shared a comprehensive overview of the 2023 Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) Biennial Report, shedding light on the state’s progress and challenges.

The NLRS was initiated in response to the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan, urging states to develop robust plans for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loss. The Illinois NLRS, established in 2015, set ambitious goals of 45% reduction in both nitrogen and phosphorus losses. The strategy encompasses not only agriculture but also addresses point sources like wastewater treatment facilities and urban storm water runoff.

Marino emphasized the critical role of agriculture, accounting for around 80% of Nitrate-N exiting Illinois via the Mississippi River and approximately 48% of the total phosphorus. The latest NLRS report, released in December 2023, paints a challenging picture. Current progress reports indicate that Illinois is 4.8% above the 1980-1996 baseline loading for nitrogen and a concerning 35% above the baseline for phosphorus. Additionally, the total water yield from the state has surged by 22% from the baseline. Despite the urgency and importance of meeting the 2025 interim goals (15% and 25% reduction for nitrogen and phosphorus, respectively), the adoption of practices to curb these losses is lagging. This shortfall has prompted concerns about the potential for policy shifts or new agricultural regulations.

Adrienne described that the NLRS Biennial Report shows that nutrient loads are above the 1980-1996 baseline period. Illinois is not on track to meet the interim (2025) goals of the NLRS for non-point source pollution.

Marino underscored several challenges hindering goal achievement, including limited practice adoption, scale and lag time, climate variability, and legacy nutrients. Addressing these challenges requires a nuanced approach, tailoring messages to different audiences with varied interests in implementing conservation practices on their farms. Marino highlighted resources provided by ISAP that could support farmers and farm advisors to address the challenges identified. Particularly, ISAP’s NLRS Overview for farmers and farm advisors highlights key points from the NLRS report. The overview from ISAP is designed to build awareness of the NLRS among farmer and farm advisor audiences, highlight challenges in meeting NLRS targets, and connect users to a variety of ISAP and partner resources to support conservation learning and action.

ISAP’s NLRS Overview provides key findings from the Biennial Report and suggests steps farmers can take in response to the information presented in the report.

On January 25, University of Illinois Extension will  host the 2024 Illinois NLRS Partnership Conference to present the latest updates to the NLRS. The conference is open to Policy Working Group members, stakeholders, and the general public who are interested in the topic of reducing nutrient loss in Illinois. The conference will be held in Springfield with a virtual option. You can register for the conference here.


Adrienne Marino’s full presentation can be viewed on ISAP’s YouTube channel. This winter, ICCON plans to host a series of calls reviewing different types of soil test and how to use the results to make management decisions on an operation using cover crops. Stay tuned for speaker details, and register for upcoming ICCON calls here.  If you are interested in joining the  Illinois Cover Crop On-Farm Network to learn about new research and hear from cover crop specialists across the Midwest, please join our google group by sending an email to hvanbeck@farmland.org. 

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ISAP Coordinator