Rural-Urban Collaboration in Fulton County
The Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) continues to build and strengthen relationships with wastewater treatment utilities across our state as it builds connections between point source and nonpoint source sectors to address key concerns about nutrient loss reduction.
IFB has helped to sponsor a partnership with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) at a research and demonstration site located in Fulton County.
The Fulton County site serves as the physical location for collaboration, where researchers, farmers and clean water experts come together to test and evaluate agricultural best management practices (BMPs).
The project stems from the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) which was released in July 2015. The NLRS tasks wastewater treatment plants, urban areas and agricultural areas with reducing the state’s phosphorous load by 25 percent and its nitrate-nitrogen load by 15 percent by 2025; the eventual target is a 45 percent reduction in the loss of these nutrients to the Mississippi River.
Collaboration at Work
Partners, including IFB, MWRD, Fulton County Farm Bureau and the Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council (NREC), hosted two field days in the summers of 2018 and 2019. These field days drew crowds of area farmers to hear MWRD water experts’ and soil scientists’ research presentations showcasing research on water quality and practices to reduce nutrient losses.
In 2020, an internal-facing virtual focus group was held with stakeholders, including Farm Bureau staff, MWRD researchers and farmers to discuss ongoing efforts at length and plans for future work within the partnership.
Additionally, MWRD has hosted IFB farmer leadership on several occasions for tours and discussions of their operations in the Chicagoland area. Regular meetings, both in-person and conference or video calls make for a steady dialogue and constant collaboration.The projects established include inter-seeded cover cropping, riparian grass buffer, denitrifying bioreactors, runoff irrigation, subirrigation, drainage water managements, designer biochar, and watershed-scale nutrient reduction demonstration.
We have the goal to once again bring farmers and the MWRD research team together at the Fulton County research and demonstration site in 2021. In addition, the partners plan to engage Cook County Farm Bureau leadership in both the Fulton County site and brainstorm on ways to expand the partnership closer to the city.
The 13,500-acre property, located in Fulton County between Canton and Cuba, Illinois, was originally purchased in 1970 to restore strip-mined land and approximately 4,000 acres were converted to productive farmland. Years later it became the ideal site to use some of the farm fields to develop and test best management practices to reduce non-point source nutrients.