dead-end road on the way to Gilles Family Farms was covered with fresh-cut grass Monday morning.
The reason became clear as I slowed to pass a tractor mowing ditches.
That morning yet another group was gathering at the Gilles Farm to tour one of central Illinois' true gems of conservation. As part of the tour we admired a road-side ditch that has been left unmowed for 15 years and is lined with showy native prairie plants.
But to reach that oasis of grasslands we had to pass a neighbor mowing a ditch like a putting green.
And people wonder why there's such an impassioned debate underway regarding the 2007 Farm Bill.
In case you aren't aware, the future of grassland conservation in the U.S. hangs in the balance. On Monday Pheasants Forever government affairs head Dave Nomsen was headed to hearings in downtown D.C. and could afford only a brief update.
Nomsen said he is cautiously optimistic about a revised farm bill that passed out of the House of Representatives agriculture committee last Thursday. Discussion on the House floor will start soon, Nomsen said. After revisions by ag chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the conservation portion of the Farm Bill currently includes:
Reauthorization of the Conservation Reserve Program with a 39.2 million acre cap.
Reauthorization of the Wetland Reserve Program for 3.6 million acres.
Reauthorization of the Grassland Reserve Program for 1 million acres.
Provisions to outlaw crop insurance on acres being converted from short-grass prairie to row crops for four years after conversion.
Allocation of $20 million for Open Fields legislation, designed to add funding for existing state walk-in hunting and fishing access programs.
To many in the conservation community that sounds like a good bill, especially given agriculture's current state of ethanol-induced euphoria. But the battle is not over.
'We made substantial improvement over the course of the last two weeks, but there may be a floor fight,' Nomsen said. 'Right now is the time the sportsmen's voice counts. Call your representative and tell them you support (H.R. 2419).'
Take the time to call your Illinois congressman, whether it's Ray LaHood (202) 225-6201, Tim Johnson (202) 225-2371, Phil Hare (202) 225-5905 or Jerry Weller (202) 225-3635. Let them know you support Peterson's amended farm bill.
Beyond that, the Senate is still working on rewrites and amendments. More fights could come.
And they're worth fighting. The payoff is obvious when you tour a place like Gilles Family Farm, where 500 of 700 acres are enrolled in CRP or other conservation practices.
Much of that rolling ground overlooks Spoon River. A few years back, the farm pumped silt into Spoon River. Now siltation has slowed because deep-rooted grasses and flowers flourish in place of row crops.
Along with the grass has come wildlife. During Monday's tour we saw deer, doves, a young pheasant, a fake skunk and a constant parade of butterflies and insects.
Tour Gilles Farms — as more than 500 people did last year — and you see there is a place for conservation in our farm landscape. Marginal, erodible acres and land prone to flooding need not be planted in row crops.
On Monday you could also see a powerful argument against mowing ditches to the nubbins.
Ted Gilles is fond of talking about a road running through his family farm. Fifteen years ago a biologist spotted cup plant growing in a ditch along that road and convinced Ted to stop mowing.
'All we've done for 15 years is just to burn it. And we've never planted anything,' Ted Gilles said. 'Those seeds have been in the ground for hundreds of years.'
Today that ditch is a constant source of color from spring through fall. Lining the roadside is an array of flowering forbs: gray-headed coneflower, blazing star, white wild indigo, compass plant, Culver's root, rattlesnake master, bergamot, partridge pea, vervain, purple coneflower, iron weed and more.
All it took was someone willing to give conservation a chance — the same thing we need from elected officials in the new farm bill.
The best chance to see the planet Mercury is shortly before dawn each day between now and Saturday. .?.?.
of South Pekin reports snagging for Asian carp has been 'outstanding' at Peoria Lock and Dam despite high water.
is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail email@example.com.