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CHAMPAIGN – Illinois farmers should take advantage of an innovative program to help protect their farmland and our environment, said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Scott Bennett.

The S.T.A.R. program (Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources), provides free instruction on how to ensure Illinois feed the world while reducing their environmental footprint.

“This program helps farmers lose less to runoff, earn more from their land, and preserve the state’s natural resources for the next generation,” said Bennett (D-Champaign).

The S.T.A.R. program ranks a farmer’s field according to how well it practices conservation, all with the goal of safeguarding local waterways and maximizing productivity per acre. Participants determine their S.T.A.R. ranking by completing a field form, which is scored by a local reviewer on a five-star scale.

“Our experience with S.T.A.R. farmers is they never realized how easy it can be to prevent runoff and protect our water supplies, and how important it is to take the extra time to plan for and execute a sustainable farming strategy on their acreage,” said Bruce Henrikson, S.T.A.R. Program Coordinator through Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District. “With more than 40 counties now participating in S.T.A.R., and state legislators making soil and water conservation a priority at the Capitol, we believe 2019 will show even more growth – and that will pay big dividends for our agricultural economy and our environment for many years to come.

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SPRINGFIELD – A bill sponsored by State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) to secure protections for the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary water source for Central Illinois residents, was signed into law last week.

Senate Bill 2027 directs the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to prioritize landfills overlying the Mahomet Aquifer for inspection.

“We all depend on environmental regulations to protect public health, and I’m grateful to the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force for helping me make sure we are playing an active role in protecting the Mahomet Aquifer,” Bennett said. “I know this tremendous group will remain vigilant and continue working to ensure that 500,000 people know the water coming out of their faucets is clean and safe to drink.”

The bill requires the IEPA to use existing information available from the state and federal agencies to identify unknown, unregulated, or under-regulated waste disposal sites that sit above the aquifer and may pose a threat to surface water or groundwater resources.

The new law also seeks to establish a pilot program at the Pekin Metro Landfill to identify potential and current threats to the water quality of the Aquifer from the landfill.

The proposed legislation comes from the recommendations of the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force, a bipartisan coalition of central Illinois lawmakers from both chambers of the General Assembly, including Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) and Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet). The task force, chaired by Champaign Mayor Deborah Feinen, also includes scientists from the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois, Illinois State Geological Survey, the Illinois Water Survey and the IEPA.

It takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.

agriculture

SPRINGFIELD – A proposal sponsored by State Senator Scott Bennett will create a hands-on agricultural teacher internship program in Illinois high schools.

Bennett (D-Champaign), who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, passed Senate Bill 1498 through the General Assembly. It requires the Illinois State Board of Education to partner with the Illinois Board of Higher Education to develop an Agricultural Education Pre-Service Internship Program to prepare high school students for a college career aimed at becoming farm sciences teachers.

“Agriculture is the number one industry in Illinois and offers many job opportunities both on the farm and in related agri-businesses,” Bennett said. “The benefits of an agricultural education goes far beyond the classroom. This program will provide students opportunities for leadership development, personal growth and career success.”

Bennett’s legislation also provides grants to teaching students who qualify and attend a university or community college that offer an agricultural education teacher course.

The pre-service teaching program would include an eight-week course that would provide hands-on experience through partnerships with Illinois agricultural companies, focusing on the five career clusters of agricultural education: agricultural business management, agricultural mechanics and technology, horticulture services, agricultural sciences, and natural resources conservation management.

The governor signed the bill into law last week. It takes effect immediately.

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