Two steps forward, one step back for soil health in the Kankakee River watershed in Illinois and Indiana


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Farmers in the Kankakee River watershed, which spans across northern Indiana and Illinois, have made progress in some soil health practices but not others. The Izaak Walton League of America and 1Mississippi used federal, state and other data for their new report, Soil Health Report Card for the Kankakee.

Better farming practices in the Kankakee basin could restore and maintain healthy soils on 2.4 million acres of farmland, providing economic benefits to farmers and communities and conservation benefits to every resident.

“With soil health we have a tremendous win-win opportunity to help farmers improve their bottom line while protecting water quality, reducing flooding, storing carbon in the soil and helping out fish and wildlife,” said Jim Sweeney, National Director, Indiana, Izaak Walton League.

The report assesses progress over the last decade in the adoption of on-farm practices that help build and maintain healthy soils on cropland and pasture in this area.

Key take-aways

  • Farmers in the Kankakee River watershed are moving away from intensive tillage and towards conservation tillage, a good sign, although they lag behind the region in adoption of no-till farming.
  • More Kankakee farmers are planting cover crops, which can restore healthy soils while reducing polluted runoff. At least one in eight farmers in the Kankakee watershed are now planting cover crops on at least some of their cropland.
  • The Kankakee basin lost 31% of its pasture from 2007 to 2017, a huge loss. Combined with the loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres in the area, that represents a loss of 38 square miles of grassland on Kankakee farms in just one decade.


The report recommends:

  • Creating a soil health strategy for the Kankakee River basin,
  • Increased funding for soil health outreach by county soil and water conservation districts,
  • More research on the impacts of soil health practices in the Kankakee’s unique mix of soils, and
  • Leveraging more federal dollars.

The report is available free for download at

The Izaak Walton League of America is a national conservation organization with 33 local chapters and more than 5,000 members in Indiana and Illinois. Visit  1Mississippi was created by the Mississippi River Network to organize people dedicated to protecting the Mississippi River. Visit for more information.

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