Shelby County farmer: 'I want clean water for future generations'

IFB continues to share conservation stories of Illinois farm families in support of the proposed Clean Water Rule. 

Michael Buchanan's family has been farming in Shelby County for more than a century. Today, he continues to promote the importance of conservation he learned from his parents so future generations of his family can continue to live off the land. (Photo courtesy of Michael Buchanan)

By Deana Stroisch

Shelby County farmer Michael Buchanan remembers his parents teaching him and his brother, Mark, how to use a chisel plow.

Follow the contour of the farm, they were told, and trip the implement when approaching a place where water naturally flows during the winter.

“I am now 57 years old,” Buchanan said. “To this day, whenever I cross a place where the water comes across the field, I trip the implement. Back in those days, the machinery was not the best, but my folks always considered soil conservation a must to teach their boys.”

The Buchanan family farming history dates back more than a century. Michael’s great-grandfather, Sam, came to Illinois from Virginia and started farming before he died in 1900. Michael’s grandfather, Claude, also farmed. His late parents, Maurice and Betty, loved farming together and worked hard to raise their two boys and pay for 975 acres of land, he said.

In the 1990s, his parents installed terraces and tile on about 275 acres with the help of the Shelby County Soil and Water Conservation District.  

“These structures are still providing the erosion control they were designed to do back in the 1990s by slowing down the water velocity as water exits our farms,” he said. “Combined with using reduced tillage and tripping for spillways on the terraces, soil exiting these farms is greatly, greatly reduced.”

Additional dry dams and terraces were constructed on an additional 200 acres at the family’s expense.

Today, Michael and his wife, Paula, grow corn, soybeans and wheat and a double-crop soybean rotation with a small amount of hay. Their goal: Leave the land for the next generation.

They use vertical tillage, and have the ability to no-till drill soybeans into standing cornstalks and no-till corn using GPS technology on highly erodible farms. Buchanan said wheat serves as a good cover crop during the winter months, followed by a double-crop soybean rotation. “That is a wonderful organic matter builder in soil,” he said.

Farmers strive to be good stewards of the land, he said, but this winter was extra difficult for farmland and soil erosion.

“We are far enough south that we didn't freeze all that deep,” he said. “And with the rains we received instead of snow, there are ugly places on farms that haven't been before – and this is with soybean stubble that wasn't touched in the fall.”

Buchanan shared his story in support of the Clean Water Rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. He said he’s fascinated with how watersheds work – how all of the water that falls on his farm is stored for a time in Lake Carlyle and eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Things I do on my farm do affect things going on downstream whether there is a government program or not,” he said. “I want clean water for future generations.”

He encouraged other farmers and landowners to submit comments to EPA and the Corps as well.

“One voice becomes 50 voices, which becomes 5,000 voices, and at some point, the message will be conveyed,” he said. “It will be a lot easier if the agricultural community can help steer this conversation, and then we all benefit.”

To submit comments, text “WATERS” to 52886 or email Lauren Lurkins at for help filing personalized comments. The comment deadline is April 15.