Agriculture and Environmental Experts Comment on Release of Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Report, Call for Greater Accountability and Leadership to Protect Health of Lands and Waters

Springfield, IL (December 1, 2023) — Experts from five organizations representing agriculture, environmental policy, and conservation across Illinois released statements on the recent Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) biennial report, developed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. While the point-source sector, primarily sewage treatment facilities, continues to progress in reducing the amount of nutrients that are swept into Illinois’ water, data from the new report shows more support is urgently needed to decrease runoff from agriculture throughout the state.

According to the report, over the five-year average from 2017 to 2021, data shows an increasing trend in the amount of nutrients present in Illinois’ water. In this time period, nitrogen increased by 4.8%, or 416 million pounds, annually, and the total amount of phosphorus increased by 35%, or 46 million pounds, annually, when compared to 1980-1996. NLRS has set a goal to achieve a 45% reduction of both total phosphorus and nitrogen leaving Illinois, with an interim goal of achieving 15% nitrogen and 25% phosphorus reductions by 2025. Since the nutrient loss strategy’s implementation in 2015, Illinois has only increased the amount of nutrients present in our waterways and entering the Mississippi River.

Excess nutrients enter Illinois waterways through many sources, including runoff from farmland and sewage treatment facilities, and contribute to algae blooms, poor drinking water quality and habitat for aquatic life, and unsuitable conditions for recreational opportunities. These excess nutrients also make their way into the Gulf of Mexico, choking off oxygen in water that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for plants and wildlife to survive. Illinois is among the major contributors of nutrient pollution to the Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Experts from American Farmland Trust, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Prairie Rivers Network and The Nature Conservancy released statements urging for impactful change, greater implementation of conservation practices that reduce nutrients in Illinois’ water, and greater accountability and agency leadership as lack of progress places the freshwater resources of Illinois and our downstream neighbors at risk. There are examples of positive progress, with farmers implementing conservation practices that promote the health of their soil while protecting our water, and a point-source approach that is proven to reduce nutrient levels in the state’s waterways.

To schedule an interview with any of these experts, please email To read more on the biennial report’s findings, click here

Dylan Cook, Midwest Policy Manager, American Farmland Trust
Subject Expertise: State and federal policy; partnerships with farmers, landowners agricultural professionals, and institutional leaders
“The 2023 NLRS Biennial Report highlights the continuing impact of underfunded conservation districts, oversubscribed conservation programs and poorly aligned efforts within the agricultural sector. American Farmland Trust urges partners, legislators and agency leaders to seek adequate funding for the Fall Covers for Spring Savings program, to ensure historic investments available through the Inflation Reduction Act are leveraged for Illinois’ working lands, and to bring new, voluntary, incentive-based policies forward that address our water quality goals.”

Eliot Clay, Land Use Programs Director, Illinois Environmental Council
Subject Expertise: Sustainable land use policy
“We are not celebrating the findings in the latest NLRS biennial report, which shows that Illinois continues to move backward in our state’s water quality goals around nutrient reduction. As one of the leading agricultural producers in the country, Illinois is failing to protect the natural resources we depend on, especially our soil and water. With climate change already presenting challenges to our farmers, it is more important than ever for decision makers to take this threat seriously by helping to establish widespread conservation practices on our working lands.”

Liz Moran Stelk, Executive Director, Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Subject Expertise: State and federal policy; farmer leadership for soil health and regenerative agriculture
“This biennial NRLS report is an SOS to state leaders that, with your help and investment in conservation, agriculture can be part of our climate strategies. Governor Pritzker has made tremendous progress in moving Illinois to the forefront of the fight against climate change. But we’ve neglected our state’s biggest competitive advantage to combat the climate crisis– 27 million acres of farmland that could sink carbon. Every single step farmers take to build climate resilience and healthy soil has the added benefit of reducing fertilizer runoff and improving our drinking water quality. Many producers are already adapting and implementing soil health practices in the face of more extreme weather, but not nearly enough or at a pace to meet the climate crisis. It’s time for the state to embrace our greatest natural resources, our soil and water, and the farmers who steward them for our next critical leap forward in climate action.”

Robert Hirschfeld, Director of Water Policy, Prairie Rivers Network
Subject Expertise: Aquatic Invasive Species, Water Law, Agriculture
“The state of Illinois’ current strategy to reduce agricultural pollution is failing. It is failing because the state has refused to consider regulating ag pollution in the way pollution from other industries is regulated. State officials and the ag industry insist on a “voluntary” approach to pollution reduction, which is better described as the public paying individual farmers to reduce their pollution, rather than requiring them to reduce it. The people of Illinois deserve the truth, that this strategy is failing to accomplish much beyond spending their money. Yet, the new report muddies the truth, calling it a success to simply spend money while our water pollution problem gets worse.”

Megan Baskerville, Illinois Agriculture Program Director, The Nature Conservancy
Subject Expertise: Conservation agriculture, soil health practices, farmer partnerships and collaborations
“Unless we course correct now, the quality of our water will continue to deteriorate at alarming rates and the impacts—including flooding, nutrient runoff and loss of plants and wildlife—will worsen. We must prioritize protection of our freshwater, targeting resources and solutions directly toward preserving these vital systems all of us rely on. Business as usual is no longer tenable, and we must shift our efforts to support those practices that are working.”

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