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Healthy Soil, Healthy Crops

When it comes to growing crops, our land is our most valuable asset. Illinois farmers want to work with the land, not against it, because healthy soil means a healthy planet and healthy crops. Farmers are already implementing many conservation practices such as cover crops and no-till farming.

But how do farmers know these efforts work and are keeping the soil healthy? That’s where precision technology and data management come into play.


To ensure the soil is as healthy as it can be, Illinois farmers partner with organizations such as Precision Conservation Management (PCM) and NASA Harvest to get insights into their conservation practices.

Precision Conservation Management

PCM is the premier conservation program of the Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Soybean Association combining precision technology and data management to help farmers manage, adopt, and adapt conservation practices.

“We started PCM as a way to use real farm data to take an objective look at how different practices – spanning the conservation spectrum – affect on-farm income and the different natural resource concerns that farmers impact with their agronomic decisions,” said Dr. Laura Gentry, Director of Water Quality Research at Illinois Corn Growers Association, in a recent Instagram Live with Illinois Farm Families. “Working with farmers and helping them to make better decisions that improve efficiencies is an important part of my job. Working together with our partners up and down the agricultural supply chain, farmers are addressing challenges with local resource concerns in a way that lets them remain farming.”

PCM farmers work with their PCM Specialists to evaluate efficiencies and financial returns related to their tillage, cover crop, and nutrient management decisions. They also have the opportunity to compare financial and environmental impacts from their own management decisions to the aggregated, anonymized data of local farmers who use different practices. Each farm has different needs and by collecting and analyzing data from each farm, Illinois farmers can make the decisions that work best for their land to maintain and improve our state’s rich soil.

NASA Harvest

NASA Harvest is a multidisciplinary Consortium commissioned by NASA and led by the University of Maryland. The program’s mission is to advance the use of satellite Earth observations by public and private organizations to benefit food security, agriculture, and the environment in the U.S. and worldwide.

“We do all kinds of work trying to bring the value of Earth observation from space satellites to the many critical agricultural decisions that farmers make every day,” said Dr. Alyssa Whitcraft, Director of NASA Acres, in the Instagram Live. “Soil tests, for example, provide critical information to farmers, but they are labor intensive, and they can be costly. Incorporating satellite data can bring greater value to soil test and plant tissue results.”

NASA Harvest also uses its technology to predict disruptions in the global food system due to environmental and manmade challenges. For example, right now the team at NASA Harvest is closely monitoring the catastrophic collapse of Ukraine’s Kakhovka dam, which supplies water to large swaths of the Black Sea region’s most productive agricultural lands, and what impacts it’ll have on crop production and human livelihoods.

By monitoring these scenarios using satellites and advanced technology, there can be preparation for challenges in the food system so the response can be quick and effective.


“We know families are all really interested in conservation and we as farmers are also interested in conservation,” said Dr. Gentry. “We want families to feel good when they pick up a product that came from Illinois. And we want them to know we care as much as they do. We have children. We have grandkids. We’re working to be sure that the next generation is as healthy as we are.”

We only have one planet, and we need to take good care of it. You do your part to keep the planet healthy by recycling or using alternative fuels. Farmers use these practices, too, but the main way they care for our planet is by caring for the soil and all that grows in it. The practices farmers use to keep their soil healthy affects every person who lives on this planet because those practices are what sustain all living things.

To learn more about how Illinois farmers are working with organizations like PCM and NASA Harvest, check out our previously recorded Instagram Live with Dr. Laura Gentry and Dr. Alyssa Whitcraft.