While the development and use of the lands near the Mackinaw River have taken a toll on water quality and wildlife habitat, the Mackinaw River still represents one of the state’s finest examples of a restorable watershed.
Conservation practices such as grassed waterways and filter strips are among the first steps towards restoration of this important freshwater resource, but farmers and scientists need a place to test, research and demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods. To that end, The Franklin Research and Demonstration Farm was established in 2004 to allow research on agricultural practices that benefit both farmers and conservation efforts. Through a 10-year cooperative agreement with the Franklin family, 250 acres of their farm was transformed into a place where farmers and others can learn firsthand about cutting-edge agricultural methods that benefit nature.
Because the Conservancy believes it is important to balance the economic needs of farmers with ecology, the effects on farm income of implementing such methods will also be carefully evaluated.
What the Conservancy Is Doing/Has Done Here
At the site, researchers from the Conservancy and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana are testing a variety of conservation methods, including:
Farmers are increasingly realizing the benefits of cover crops, typically oats, radish and cereal rye, which in addition to improving the health of the farmer’s soil, also help keep soil and nutrients in the field and out of our freshwater resources. Typically planted in the late summer or early fall, they germinate and grow through to the first frost, stabilizing soil with their roots during the winter months--but that’s not all. They also replenish important nutrients, and they can help control pests and weeds.
As the cover crops decompose in the field, they also add beneficial organic matter to the land that further increases soil health.
Wetlands function as nature’s kidneys, removing nutrients and sediment, as well as slowing down the flow of water before it reaches creeks, streams, and rivers. When placed near agricultural lands, constructed wetlands can catch and absorb nutrients from farm fields. At the Franklin Demonstration farm, researchers and farmers are learning how effective constructed wetlands can be, and specifically the size and amount needed to help clean nutrients from water that passes through tile drains.
Prairies, savannas, and floodplains are all habitats that were once prevalent throughout Illinois before their acreage was reduced to make way for agriculture and development. The team at the Franklin Demonstration Farm has worked hard to restore these natural areas to the benefit of local birds, plants and wildlife.
In addition to research, outreach is an important part of the work that happens at the Franklin Demonstration Farm. Farmers and landowners need to understand exactly how conservation practices are implemented—without negatively impacting their bottom lines. Tours of the Franklin Demonstration farm help these and other members of the agricultural community see first-hand how conservation practices such as restored wetlands and grassed waterways function on working farm, and how they can be economically feasible.
About the Franklin Family
The Franklin Family has lived and worked their farm alongside the Mackinaw River for six generations. As the necessary use of the land began to impact this important freshwater resource, they decided to turn the 250-acre farm into a model of sustainable agriculture. Along with his childhood friend and local farmer Tim Lindenbaum, John Franklin runs the demonstration farm, where farmers and others can see first-hand how nature and agriculture work together to keep our water clean.