Chapin farmer Larry Werries is passionate about conservation. When he was Illinois Agriculture Director he was passionate about a program called “T by 2000” to try to bring the state’s erosion to a “tolerable” levels by the year 2000.
This spring, he’s passionate about a project to bring farm conservation practices to Jacksonville’s Lake Mauvasie Terre. He’s been named coordinator of the Lake Mauvaise Terre Watershed project in Morgan County by the American Farmland Trust.
The farmer outreach program is designed to increase farmer and landowner awareness of farm conservation practices and how they can reduce nutrient and sediment to the lake. Werries was asked to head up the project by Michael Baise, Farmland Trust’s Midwest director and a Jacksonville native.
The City of Jacksonville, which uses the lake as a reserve water supply, is dredging the lake to remove sediment.
“It all starts in Jacksonville,” said Werries. “Years ago when the lake was constructed, it was much deeper. Over the years, the capacity has decreased dramatically.”
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency designated Lake Mauvasie Terre as one of six priority watersheds in the state, Werries said.
“Because of that, there is major federal funding available to address this problem,” he added. “Dredging will start in the fall.”
The price tag includes $3 million to dredge the lake; $60,000 spent on conservation structures and $200,000 in federal funds.
“Where I come in is encouraging farmers to initiate conservation practices – so we do this once and not again,” Werries said. “We’ve had so much interest we’ve already maxed out our funds. It’s been great. I’ve had private meetings with farmers, offering 80 percent cost share, and everyone wants to participate.”
Conservation structures built on watershed land will include dry dams, filter strips, waterways and ponds.
“My second project is to encourage farmers to try cover crops in the fall after they combine beans,” said Werries. “We want the to plant cereal rye or rye grass in the fall, then in the spring, to kill it with Roundup, and then plant corn. This is the coming thing.”
He’s grateful for the response from farmers and the community.
“I can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel to everyone for embracing this,” said Werries. “When Mike asked me to be project coordinator, I jumped at the chance. It’s something I am totally dedicated to.”
He’s now busy organizing a local watershed advisory committee to identify areas which would most benefit from conservation practices. The committee will meet in June.
“I want to have city officials and farmers, and anyone interested in the project.”
— Charlyn Fargo