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updated: 8/27/2013 4:26 PM

Illinois launches sustainable farming effort

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois agriculture officials on Tuesday announced a three-year pilot project aimed at encouraging farmers to plant environmentally friendly cover crops as part of an effort to boost sustainable farming around the state.

The project is slated to begin later this year when 14 corn and soybean fields around the state will be seeded with cover crops. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the fields were selected because they are visible along interstates or state highways.

The idea is that cover crops reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff from farm fields, which in turn improves water and soil quality.

State officials said there also is evidence that cover crops may improve production. They cite a federal study that surveyed Midwest farmers last year, showing 10 percent higher yields for corn and 12 percent for fields where cover crops had been planted.

"The time is right for this initiative," Steve Chard, the head of land and water resources at the agriculture department, said in a statement. "New plant varieties and new production techniques have been discovered that eliminate many of the problems that farmers who planted cover crops in the 1980s and 90s experienced."

Quinn touted the idea Tuesday at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur.

"We can learn from these pilot programs to help our farmers increase their productivity and save the land," he told reporters.

The cover crops state officials will plant include types of grasses and legumes. Each plot will be accompanied by a sign directing people to a state website with more details.

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