T By 2000: Soil Conservation for the 21st Century

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    ​What is T by 2000?

    The Illinois Erosion and Sediment Control law, often referred to as the T by 2000 program, became effective in April 1980. The law is designed to preserve the long-term productivity of Illinois soil and to protect water quality.

    T represents the tolerable soil loss for any specific soil. The term signifies the point at which new soil is naturally produced in greater or equal amounts to that which is lost to erosion. T values range from one to five tons per acre per year, depending on the soil type. The law authorized the Illinois Department of Agriculture to set erosion control guidelines for reducing soil erosion to T by the year 2000.

    Each of Illinois' 97 soil and water conservation districts has adopted standards in accordance with guidelines set by the department and adjusted to reflect local soils and terrain. By law, these standards must be technically feasible, economically reasonable and at least as strict as state guidelines. The department approved district standards in April 1982, and the T by 2000 program went into effect in January 1983.

    Why is T by 2000 important?

    Conservation of natural resources has many economic and environmental benefits for everyone, particularly for people involved in production agriculture.

    First, farmers are stewards of the land, and their efforts have an impact on future generations. Conserving soil and water resources will enable farmers to continue producing an abundant food supply and deriving an income from agriculture for years to come.

    Second, soil and water conservation can enhance a farm operation's profitability. Practices that keep soil in place also help retain nutrients, fertilizers and chemicals that work with the soil in producing a crop. Conservation measures such as crop residue management also save time, labor and fuel because fewer trips across the field are needed. By decreasing production costs, a conservation management system can increase farm profits.

    Third, agriculture is a major contributor to Illinois' economy, with nearly one million people employed in the state's food and fiber system. Illinois farm products help feed the nation and the world. The continued health of agriculture--and, by extension, of the economy--is tied to the state's natural resources: fertile soil and wholesome water. Reducing soil erosion and protecting water quality ensures agricultural employment and income as well as a stable supply of food and fiber.

    Fourth, soil conservation protects water supplies. Groundwater and surface water resources are vital for human consumption, fish and wildlife habitat, and industry. Excessive soil erosion produces sediment that depletes the holding capacity of lakes and reservoirs and reduces aquatic habitat in rivers and streams. Conservation practices such as terraces, grass waterways, contour farming and crop residue management keep soil and farm nutrients on fields where they belong.

    Does crop residue management really matter?

    Crop residue management is probably the single most important management tool for reducing soil erosion and meeting Illinois' T by 2000 goal. Illinois is a national leader in use of no-till/conservation tillage/reduced tillage, which maintains previous crop's residue on the soil surface after planting.

    In 2015, more than 55.7 percent of Illinois' corn acres and 87.6 percent of soybean acres was planted with a residue management system. Of this amount, 14 percent of corn acres and 39.7 percent of soybean acres were planted with a no-till system, which leaves soil undisturbed from the harvest of one crop through planting of the next.

    How does T by 2000 relate to conservation compliance measures?

    Federal farm legislation passed in 1985 and 1990 required farmers with highly erodible land to plan and apply soil conservation systems to remain eligible for farm program benefits. 

    The current 2014 farm legislation includes Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) and Wetland Conservation (WC) provisions that aim to reduce soil loss on erosion-prone lands and to protect wetlands for the multiple benefits they provide. 

    These provisions apply to all land that is considered highly erodible or a wetland and that is owned or farmed by persons voluntarily participating in USDA programs, unless USDA determines an exemption applies ( http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/farmbill/?cid=stelprdb1257899 ) . While treating soil to meet federal conservation compliance goals is helpful, it may not reduce soil loss to T. Staff at local soil and water conservation district offices can help farmers determine whether their compliance plan also meets T by 2000 goals.

    How close is Illinois to reaching T?

    In 1982, the Natural Resource Inventory, a survey conducted by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service every five years, showed 14.7 million acres of cropland, or 59.4 percent of total cropland acres in Illinois, were protected to T. A similar survey conducted in 1987 showed the number of acres protected to T had increased to 16.7 million acres, or 67.7 percent of total cropland. The 1992 inventory again showed an increase in acres treated to T. About 17.7 million acres, or 73.6 percent of cropland acres, were at or below tolerable soil loss levels.

    In 1994, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and local soil and water conservation districts worked with other farm groups to undertake the most comprehensive soil loss survey ever conducted in Illinois. Survey results indicated 74.1 percent of cropland acres, were protected to T or below. Survey results from the most recent survey in 2015 show 80.4 percent of cropland acres below T. Another 12.0 percent exceeded T but were below 2 T. With slight adjustments in management systems to retain more crop residue, these acres can easily be brought to T or below. Survey results in 2015 showed land eroding in excess of 2 T stands at 7.6 percent.

    Whom do I contact for more information?

    Your local soil and water conservation district receives funds from the Illinois Department of Agriculture and other sources to help you develop and implement conservation plans to meet T by 2000 goals on your farm. Information on cost-share assistance also is available from the district office. Districts provide technical aid through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    To find out where your district office is located, call the Illinois Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Land and Water Resources at 217.782.6297.