From the Classroom to the Field: Advanced Soil Health Training for Illinois Ag Service Providers

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $74,602.00
Projected End Date: 03/30/2018
Grant Recipient: American Farmland Trust
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Jennifer Filipiak
Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, wheat


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, no-till, strip tillage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Soil Management: soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Because of the increasing awareness about the benefits of well-managed soils, both the agriculture and conservation communities are promoting soil health. Traditionally, the focus has been more on the physical and chemical properties of the soil and the need to increase organic matter, reduce erosion and limit soil compaction. But the complexities of the third component, soil biology, have been less understood and somewhat overlooked. Thus, cover crops are being promoted as a practice to improve soil health. Without a solid understanding of how cover crop benefits are directly related to soil biology, however, making sound cover crop management decisions for the long term is challenging. And, cover cropping is just one element of a conservation cropping system that provides for sound management of all three aspects of the soil. This project led by American Farmland Trust (AFT) is providing in-depth training for up to 20 hand-picked Illinois professionals and farmers with experience in cover crops and introductory soils training. Trainees will include Illinois cover crop specialists, farmers, farm managers, agricultural retailers and consultants. The program will closely follow the one that has been used for the successful Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative. In year one of the project, AFT will host a series of one-day workshops in conjunction with the soil health field days that will held across Illinois. In year two, trainees will provide outreach on soil health in their respective communities. The curriculum to be developed under this program will be available for broad dissemination so that others may replicate the training in their areas. AFT will also report on the project results at relevant local, regional and national meetings. The project is expected to reach at least 400 farmers, landowners, and their advisors.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Project Outputs:

    Up to 20 conservation/agriculture professionals will be trained in advanced principles of soil health, especially soil biology, and methods to manage for soil health on the farm. Trainees will be committed to helping farmers and/or their peers and will have additional experience delivering information to farmers via the field days.

    Experience will be gained by all trainees and workshop leaders (trainers) by attending field days throughout Illinois, and outside of the individual’s local area

    Increases in awareness about the importance of soil health, soil health management and practices to improve soil health (especially cover crops) among approximately 180 farmers and farm advisors who attend the field days associated with the training workshops.

    Technical assistance on soil health and soil health best practices to be given to approximately 200 additional farmers and farmland owners through trainees after the workshops are completed.

    Curricula specific to Illinois will be developed and the training materials will be be made available to all. It is intended for this training program to be replicable and will assist others who want to lead it beyond the life of this grant project.

    Knowledge Outcomes:

    A gain in technical knowledge by trainees, which will be measured by surveys conducted before, during and after the workshop series. Trainees will be asked to estimate their own gain in knowledge and confidence on a numerical scale.

    All participants (trainers and trainees) will gain knowledge on the variation of experiences and barriers to adoption in different parts of Illinois. We will hold the six workshops across Illinois so all participants gain experience outside of their own geography.

    Trainees will gain hands on experience during the local field days of translating knowledge learned in a workshop to effective information delivery.

    Action Outcomes:

    Trainees apply the knowledge gained to providing improved technical assistance in their local area following the workshop. Post-workshop activities will be tracked by project leaders.

    Ultimately, the availability of better technical assistance will lead to increased adoption of soil health practices by farmers in the local areas of the trainees. Project leaders will work with those Service Centers to track practice adoption.

    The project curriculum is used beyond the life of the grant on additonal soil health trainings.

    Changes in Conditions/Ultimate Outcomes:

    Greater adoption of soil health practices leading to improved soil resilience and improved environmental performance and resilience of individual farms

    Improved soil health leads to greater nutrient efficiency and profitability of Illinois farms, thus providing a funding mechanism for the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. In other words, if farmers know how to manage their farms for improved soil health, knowing that it leads to greater profit and lesser run-off of nutrients and sediment, they can potentially employ such practices without government funding assistance

    Ultimately, improved soil health on Illinois farms leads to cleaner water, healthier soils and healthier crops.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.