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Illinois Extension to create holistic regenerative ag course

rows of young corn plants growing in sunny field

URBANA, Ill. – Illinois’ agriculture industry is rooted in its soil. Now, University of Illinois Extension is continuing to invest in the earth by developing a regenerative agricultural program to bring healthy soil practices to farms and gardens statewide.

The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education awarded University of Illinois Extension an $80,463 grant to train staff on regenerative agriculture practices. The “Soil Matters in Illinois” project is spearheaded by Travis Burke, assistant dean and program leader for agriculture and agribusiness.

“The role of Extension is to translate research into practice, and to do this with regenerative agriculture, Illinois Extension educators need to be trained in the principles of regenerative agriculture to be able to share them with communities across the state,” Burke says.

Illinois Extension will develop a regenerative agriculture course and train educators about greenhouse gases, carbon sequestration, the soil microbiome, soil nutrients and fertilizers, and water management.

The term “regenerative agriculture” was created in the 1980s, but the practice has grown in popularity in the past several years because it has the potential to mitigate climate change. Research in this area has also increased.

In the coming year, a group of Illinois Extension educators and faculty researchers will develop materials, including videos of on-farm demonstrations. The online course will explore the science, best practices, and research behind regenerative agriculture and how it applies to soil health in home gardens and commercial farms.

Project team members include Dr. Shibu Kar, Illinois Extension assistant dean for Natural Resources Environment, and Energy; Horticulture Educators Mary Fischer, Andrew Holsinger, and Ken Johnson; Commercial Agriculture Educators Talon Becker and Nathan Johanning; and Watershed Outreach Associate Rachel Curry.

“There is already great excitement for this opportunity from staff,” Burke says. “Our work will help Illinois Extension educators understand the science behind regenerative agriculture, so they can feel confident including this information in their outreach activities in their field units.”

The team expects the online course will be available to all staff in the summer of 2023.

The North Central Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organization awarded more than $926,000 to 11 projects through its 2022 Professional Development Program. These grants emphasize training agricultural educators in extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, non-profit organizations, and other public and private sector organizations.

SARE is a nationwide grants and education program that advances sustainable innovation to American agriculture through competitive grants and educational opportunities for producers, scientists, educators, institutions, organizations, and others exploring sustainable agriculture in the Midwest.

SOURCES: Travis Burke, Assistant Dean, Agriculture/Agri-Business Program Leader, Illinois Extension; Emily Heaton, Regenerative Agriculture Stakeholder Coordinator, Department of Crop Sciences.

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.