I grew up on a small corn and soybean farm in Crawford County, IL. I enjoyed growing up on the farm and helping in the summers. I appreciated the lessons it taught me about making do with what you have and the valuable lessons you can only learn from manual labor. While I decided to leave the family farm for college, I was able to stay connected to agriculture through my education, majoring in Agricultural Engineering at the University of Illinois. I was very interested in everything it had to offer and enjoyed learning how to apply different technologies towards advancement of the systems I was studying. Ultimately this led me to conducting research to study improvements to bioreactors for enhanced nutrient removal from agricultural tile drainage. While conducting this research, I learned that I had a passion for studying water quality and the stewardship aspects of agriculture, which has lasted throughout my career. This led me to the U.S. Geological Survey Illinois Water Science Center where I learned about all types of hydrologic data collection, which helped to strengthen my foundational understanding of the different data that is generated around surface water, and how it interacts with the landscape. From there, I transitioned to Waterborne Environmental, where I was able to apply these skills as a consultant to the agricultural chemical industry and corn and soybean commodity organizations for over ten years. My experiences have led me to my new role as Director of Precision Conservation Management (PCM), which I couldn’t be more excited about!
When not thinking about agriculture and the environment, I spend the rest of my time with my wonderful wife Kristin and our dog Maverick, strategizing how best to care for our daughter who will be making her arrival very soon.
What is Precision Conservation Management (PCM)? How is it useful for Illinois farmers?
PCM is primarily a farmer service program focused on farm incomes and environmental outcomes. We pair a farmer’s management information with aggregated cost tables to be able to highlight and compare the economic return farmers are getting under different management strategies. We have used this program to show that oftentimes conversation management strategies can be just as, or more, profitable as many conventional strategies with the added benefit of being good for the environment, and therefore everyone. This program was started through an RCPP grant, with contributions from IL Corn and over 30 partners, which helped to maximize the value of the checkoff dollars Illinois farmers contribute. We are also extremely grateful for the contribution the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) has made for the last two years, which reiterates the value farmers are finding in this program, being demonstrated through major financial and in-kind commitments. This is truly a ‘by the farmers, for the farmers’ program, which we couldn’t be prouder to offer producers.
What drew you to the PCM team?
All the amazing people I work with, but namely Dr. Laura Gentry, who demonstrated a clear passion for what this program was all about. It was obvious to me at that point this program had an extremely noble mission, and truly existed for the benefit of all – farmers who produce our food, the general public, and the environment. Upon that realization, coupled with the opportunity to work more closely with farmers, I knew I wanted to be a part of this program.
What do you see as PCM’s main priorities moving forward?
Our main priorities won’t change from what they’ve been– we’ll continue helping farmers understand the economics around implementing conservation practices that are good for their farm and the environment. Our best outcome is when our data demonstrate that conservation management strategies are the most profitable strategies for farmers. While this is what we hope for, that doesn’t necessarily mean that is what we see in every case. We believe a large part of the value of this program moving into the future, especially as we observe our climate changing, is how do see that play out in our data?
While certain conservation practices like cover cropping may take some time for producers to work into their system and determine the best varieties, rotations, etc. that work for them. It’s possible or even likely they will see a small decrease in returns in the beginning. However, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there that hints to us there are long term benefits to these practices through improving your soil health, and overall farm resilience to extreme weather. In time, we should be able to capture this and turn the anecdotal evidence into data backed observations that help us demonstrate the claims we’ve all heard and been telling farmers for many years now.
A major component related to that will also be helping our farmers continue to understand and evaluate the growing number of cost-share programs and ecosystem credit markets that are available to them. These are a valuable mechanism to help farmers address the uncertainty and risk associated with making a switch to conservation management strategies on their farm. However, as the number of these programs grow, so does the demand for producer’s time and attention and we see our PCM Specialists as an ever-important resource to help them weigh the benefits of the various programs and markets out there. We will continue to invest time continually educating ourselves in this area.
Last but not least, we will continue to look for opportunities and strategic partners to expand the reach of our program.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve learned about PCM since joining the team?
This has undoubtedly just been observing the interest and passion from everyone within and around the program towards helping PCM achieve its goals and succeed! The amount of support the program gets from current partners, as well as the number of groups interested to partner with us is incredibly exciting and very heartening. It is clear everyone in and around the program has bought in to what we are doing, which has made my transition into the director role extremely easy. When you don’t have to convince people to feel the way you do about something because they already feel that way, you’re in a pretty great place. That’s how I feel about PCM.
Can you give us a sneak peek on any highlights we can expect to see coming from PCM this year?
As always, our Prairie Farmer publication will be released this summer, so be on the lookout for that. In addition, through the extremely generous support of ISA, we are currently working with our partners at Heartland Science and Technology Group to build out the newest version of the Farmer Portal, including a QuickStats feature. We are excited to have this additional functionality in our portal for all of our partners and look forward to rolling this out later this year.
How can interested farmers enroll in PCM?
For those interested in joining PCM, you can visit our website at precisionconservation.org. Just click the JOIN button on the home page, fill out the registration information, and you will be connected to a PCM Specialist who can assist you in the enrollment process. While unfortunately we do not currently have PCM Specialists in every region of the states we currently serve (IL, IN, KY, and NE), please do still register so we can contact you and recognize the need in other areas.
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