Soil And Water District Holds Annual Meeting

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Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) held their 79th annual meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the University of Illinois Extension Center in Hillsboro.

There were approximately 40 in attendance for the yearly meeting, including the current Teen Miss Illinois United States Agriculture Elaan Bader, who briefly addressed the group, thanking them for their support of local 4-H and other educational agriculture programs.

Retired Resource Conservationist CJ Lidell greeted guests  and led an invocation before the meal; Lidell retired from the SWCD in January 2019. Those in attendance enjoyed a light meal of soup and sandwiches, prepared by Milanos Catering of Hillsboro, prior to the start of the meeting.

Vice Chairman Ken Suslee opened the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Following a vote, Jason Anderson, Dennis Hand and Dave Schluckebier were reelected to serve on the Montgomery County SWCD Board. Members not up for election this year include Ken Suslee and Dave Pastrovich, and associate directors, Danny Eck, Dick Lyons and Bob Wilson.

Following the 2020 board appointments, Suslee gave the yearly chairman's report, written by current chairman Jason Anderson, who was unable to attend the meeting in person.

"We began the year with some much needed funding. One of our big wins in 2019 was securing state funding for the employee health insurance program. The funding had been cut off and the state lost a lot of knowledgeable, valuable employees during this time," said Suslee. "We are fortunate that our employees remained with us and we thank them for their dedication." 

SWCD Resource Conservationist Patricia Fuchs gave a report on the district's actions over the fiscal year 2019.

"It's been a whirlwind of a year, and there is still plenty for me to learn," said Fuchs, who was hired by the district in early 2019. "But I am excited to be here and look forward to continuing our work to further the SWCD in the next year."

The total revenue for 2019 was $245,750, while the expenditures were $172,845. Montgomery County SWCD was left with $72,905 in net income.

The office assisted several producers with securing contracts with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Qualities Incentive Program (EQIP) in 2019. There were three new CSP contracts obligated, benefitting 895 acres, and four new EQIP contracts benefitting 99 acres. The CSP contracts were primarily for planting cover crops, while the EQIP contracts were for two non-mechanical conservation contracts, one drainage water management project and one forest management plan.

The office also partnered with habitat seed providers to assist CRP participants in obtaining seed for their habitat buffers, pollinator acres and contract mid-management acres. More than 229 acres were seeded through this program. They also assisted 11 producers with the Illinois Department of Agriculture's Prevented Planting Cover Crop Program. This consisted of 1,824 acres in Montgomery County.

Staff assisted county producers with the pilot program, Fall Covers for Spring Savings, a cover crop premium discount program through USDA-RMA crop insurance. Over 980 acres were enrolled throughout Montgomery County.

Fuchs ended her report with a recap of Montgomery County SWCD's field day, which featured presentations from local specialists and a bus tour of county farms that highlighted the benefits of diversity in cover crops and the importance of soil health.

District Conservationist Aaron Engstrom gave the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) report. Engstrom spoke on the difficulties of the past year and the NRCS goal to employ a Soil Conservationist in the Hillsboro Office in 2020.

"We began the year with a dwindling staff due to retirements and relocations. Thankfully, staff from the Macoupin and Christian County offices helped cover our office and kept us going. NRCS recently committed to hiring a soil conservationist in the Hillsboro Office," said Engstrom. "While the demographics of the office have changed the mission has not. Our priorities remain to improve soil health and clean water practices. We are very fortunate to have dedicated stewards of the land in Montgomery County."

Carolyn Slightom, County Executive Director of the Farm Services Agency (FSA) office, spoke briefly to the group. Slightom spoke about upcoming deadlines for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). She encouraged farmers to schedule appointments now, as the FSA office is understaffed and they want to ensure adequate time to assist with applications. 

Dave Rahe reported on the Natural Area Guardians (NAGs) activities over the past year, stating that 2019 had been very successful for the group. The NAGs have been actively working to maintain Arches Trail and have almost completed a project to spray honeysuckle but were impeded from finishing by the winter weather. They have also been working with Hillsboro Area Hospital on their natural resource area. Despite a few funding setbacks, the NAGs will continue to work on developing the Route 66 Waystation Prairie - their biggest project at the moment.

Rahe reported that Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) agreed to build a paved parking lot and path at the prairie as part of the Rt. 66 Monarch Butterfly Highway. He also stated that they had signed a new management lease with IDOT for Montgomery County SWCD to manage the area for the next five years. The NAGS are currently working to secure funding for signage at the prairie.

Associate Director Dick Lyons spoke to the group about the STAR (Saving Tomorrows Agricultural Resources) program. He stated that Illinois currently has 47 counties invested in the program, which helps farmers evaluate their conservation practices.

"This is our future," stated Lyons. "I urge anyone who hasn't already implemented the STAR program to do so. Its important for all of us to think long term. This is about the future of our farms. I encourage you to get future generations involved. Talk to your families and your neighbors about this program."

The meeting ended with a program led by Ashley Dawson, farm bill biologist with Pheasants Forever. Dawson's presentation was titled "Enrolling in CRP" and provided information on the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to help address soil, water and related natural resource conservation practices. She provided information on the differences between General and Continuous CRP, deadlines, qualifications and how the program is awarded.

Dawson also presented on two grant programs available through Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever; the Youth Pollinator Program and Illinois Habitat Grants. Dawson emphasized the importance of wildlife habitat cover and how these programs can be used to implement necessary conservation practices.

The meeting adjourned at 8:10 p.m. and several door prizes were handed out. Winners included, JoAnn Marquis, Roy Marquis, Luke Hamlin, Randy Schneider and Dave Jenkins.

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