Nationwide management practice tool: Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (STAR)
Dennis has been active in conservation organizations and causes throughout his career and is the immediate past president of the Conservation Districts of Iowa. He also uses STAR as a condition of renewal in his farm leases.
Farmers and consumers are increasingly aware of and concerned about the consequences of commercial food, feed, and fiber production on our natural resources; and they are looking for a mechanism to measure these effects. Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) is a FREE nationwide management practice tool designed to assist farm operators and landowners in evaluating their current practices on individual fields. Once practices on individual fields are evaluated, farm operators and landowners can then make any necessary adjustments to reduce nutrient loss, conserve soil, and enhance soil health.
STAR was developed in 2017 by Illinois’ Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District as a means to contribute to the important goals outlined in the stat’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS). Since its creation, STAR has been adopted in many county soil and water conservation districts in Illinois, including several in Indiana. Other states have also adopted STAR, including Iowa, Missouri, and Colorado to administer the tool in their area, tailored to their local resource concern.
As the STAR program has grown, processors, ag suppliers, and end-users have responded to consumer demands for sustainable ag production by increasing their support for agriculture practices that improve soil and water quality. In the future, these purchasers may well offer incentives to producers who can prove their product was grown in an environmentally responsible manner.
The STAR evaluation system assigns points for management activities on an annual basis. Participants answer a series of simple questions about their crop rotation, tillage, nutrient applications, and use of conservation practices to generate their overall field score. STAR relies on the expertise of a local state science committee, comprised of farmers, conservation professionals, and university scientists, to assign point values to practices identified to address local resource concerns. Scores are converted to a STAR rating of 1 to 5, with 5 STARs indicating commitment to a suite of practices proven to improve soil health and water quality.
As the adoption of the STAR program has expanded, the need for a national STAR organization to ensure rating consistency across crops and production systems has grown. Work has been underway for several months on the organizational structure and makeup of this group; recently obtained funding will allow completion of this work. This oversight organization will be able to represent all the different state and local administering agencies in national level negotiations with end-users, consumer groups, STAR affiliates, and new groups that would benefit from STAR support and participation.
An additional benefit to the STAR program is that it provides landowners an easy method to ensure their valuable farmland is being farmed with the desired level of environmental awareness. A specific STAR rating that must be obtained as a condition of lease renewal can be included in the lease agreement, thus eliminating the need for a lengthy list of specific conservation practices to be followed. In addition, producers who are currently carrying high STAR ratings on their fields should attract additional land rental agreements from environmentally engaged landowners in their area.
In Iowa, the STAR program is administered through Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI), an organization comprised of the state’s 500 soil and water conservation district commissioners. Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) staff, and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) employees administer a wide variety of cost share funds to implement conservation practices on private lands.
Iowa landowners and producers who are interested in the STAR program can go to https://www.cdiowa.org/ and look under the STAR tab for more information and the most current field form. You can fill out the form for one of your fields and click submit; upon review of entered data, CDI will inform you of your STAR rating. CDI re-evaluates the Iowa field form each year with science committee members to ensure that the most effective practices that result in improved soil health and water quality in the state are included.
Dennis Carney, retired 5th generation farmer from North Central Iowa