State sustainability award honors impact by IFB, farmers

A recent meeting between a group of Illinois farmers and EPA officials made a lasting impression, showing that ag's voice is part of the conversation.

Illinois Farm Bureau has collaborated on hundreds of events to improve farmers’ awareness of environmental sustainability practices. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

By Kay Shipman

Farmers’ work and Illinois Farm Bureau’s efforts to improve water quality won statewide recognition this week, but Farm Bureau leaders’ personal stories added frosting to a sweet day.

“We are having an impact and our voices are being heard,” said IFB Vice President Brian Duncan, who accepted the award from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). ISTC is part of the state scientific surveys and the Prairie Research Institute.

IFB joined 27 winners that include suburban cities, universities and businesses. Following a rigorous review and selection process, the Sustainability Award is presented to public and private entities for their outstanding and innovative sustainability practices.

Related: IFB honored for NLRS activities. Read more here.

Duncan savored a keynote address as much as the award. During keynote remarks, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region 5 official recalled this summer’s visit by Farm Bureau leaders and how their stories of multigenerational farms resonated, Duncan said. “We still talk about that meeting,” the speaker told the audience in Chicago.

“It is good to be a leader of this issue and to be part of the conversation,” Duncan said. “We’ve been leading on renewable and sustainability on the farm for many generations.”

IFB won for its work on the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois EPA.

Since 2015, IFB has reached about 40,000 farmers and others through 237 events, 360 FarmWeek articles and 24 RFD Radio Network® interviews. The organization invested more than $500,000 in outreach programs, research and on-farm projects and worked with 54 county Farm Bureaus and nearly 100 local partners on county-level efforts.

ISTC noted IFB “has played a critical role” in helping IDOA and IEPA implement the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. “Through outreach, research and communication, the Bureau’s advocacy of improved water quality permeated its powerful agricultural network,” ISTC stated.

“Illinois’ success as an economic and cultural leader depends upon our responsible management of natural resources, as well as sustainable development,” ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien said in a prepared statement.

Although many questions remain as to what sustainability means, Duncan pointed out farmers produce renewable products – “the epitome of sustainability.”

The award ceremony was “very cool and not a typical place to find Farm Bureau, but we’ve done a lot of work in sustainability,” Duncan said. He appreciated IFB leadership and members being honored for their efforts and “a tip of the cap” to Lauren Lurkins, IFB director of natural and environmental resources, and other IFB staff for their work.