In 2017, two Central Illinois farmers wondered how they could encourage neighbors to find new ways to prevent nutrient runoff from fields. Steve Stierwalt and Joe Rothermel were successful using reduced-tillage and cover crops to improve soil health and reduce runoff, and they thought there must be a simple, straightforward way to help make such conservation farming the norm.

“We were just kicking around ideas for a roadmap for conservation practices,” Rothermel said. “Say a farmer wanted to try conservation practices: What would we tell them? Make a list of all the practices that would work best in this area – a recipe for success. It recognizes farmers for their practices, but there is also an education part. My goal was to provide information to farmers who wanted to try this.”

“We had no vision of building something that would even go across Illinois,” Stierwalt said. “We wanted to do Champaign County. But we found a lot of interest. My personal “why” was discomfort at seeing that we were not getting done what was needed. Joe came up with the STAR acronym. Having a name that tells people what we’re hoping to do is important.”

Watch videos below featuring Steve Stierwalt, Joe Rothermel, and Kris Reynolds on the AIMillinois YouTube channel.

Steve Stierwalt is one of the farmers who created STAR (Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources) at the Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Joe Rothermel was one of the farmers kicking around ideas for a roadmap for conservation practices at the Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District and helped create the STAR initiative.

Kris Reynolds has added cover crops and conservation practices to his farm near Nokomis in Montgomery County. Reynolds serves on the STAR board.

Read about Illinois STAR in the national STAR program’s January 2024 newsletter.

Story by Brian Williams — a freelance writer, consultant, and “Dot Connector” who contributes to AIM Illinois through his association with HNA Networks.
Photos and video by Steve Warmowski — communications coordinator for the Agroecology + Innovation Matters initiative after a photojournalism career at newspapers in Illinois and Michigan.

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