By TIM ALEXANDER
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The projections are startling: 40 percent of the world’s population (or more than 3 billion people) will be living in areas of severe water stress by the year 2050.
More immediately, more than 700 million people may be displaced by water shortages by 2030, according to the United Nations and World Health Organization. Though these crises are predicted to be largely confined to other nations, water issues have historically challenged communities and agricultural producers in the United States, particularly in the Southwest.
For these and other reasons, water challenges, including availability and quality, are among the top priorities of the Illinois Soybean Assoc. (ISA) moving toward 2030.
“We are looking at many opportunities to help our soybean producers through technology and innovation, and one of the areas is water,” said Amy Roady, communications director for the ISA. “Our efforts in water come from a long line of projects we’ve done over the years.”
Those efforts include participation in water quality studies in the Chesapeake Bay region with Delaware conservation groups, the Lake Erie basin in Ohio and the study of downstream impacts on water quality and management in the New Orleans region of the Mississippi River.
“We studied issues including the role water plays in a state’s economy,” Roady said. “In Illinois, water is an important issue. We are studying things like how much water it takes to produce a bushel of soybeans. In the past we have focused heavily on water quality, but moving forward we are also looking at water management.”
To that effect, in June ISA partnered with the Wetlands Initiative and the Chicago Park District for a “planting day” at Indian Ridge Marsh in southwestern Chicago, where farmers, conservationists and local volunteers planted 4,000 seedlings in the commercially overdeveloped Calumet wetlands.
Founded in 1994, the Wetlands Initiative works to restore wetland resources in the Midwest and improving water quality, while reducing flood damage and increasing wildlife habitat and diversity.
“This event is a great opportunity to share my experiences in agriculture and showcase what farmers do every day – care for the land,” said ISA Director and Pontiac farmer Jim Martin, in June.
The ISA is not only examining water issues in Illinois and the U.S., but abroad. “We are examining what they are doing in China and Asia to (mitigate) water issues. In Illinois, water is important not only to urban areas but also to the downstate agricultural region. All of us need access to reliable and affordable water,” Roady said.
“What are the lessons we can learn from other parts of the country and world? What happens if the Illinois River dried up and there isn’t enough water to grow soybeans? We’re curious.”
ISA will be releasing more details from its studies as they develop, Roady added.
In addition to water management and positioning ISA “to be at the center of water quality and availability discussions,” the slate of checkoff-sponsored projects set by the group board include the following:
•Technology adaptation and giving producers direct exposure and training to the latest tools and advancements
•Illinois infrastructure tools for better preparing growers for the challenges of transporting soybeans
•Containerized shipping of soybeans and increasing producers’ profitability by capitalizing on the state’s unique logistics advantages
•Global protein discussions and positioning soybeans in feeding-the-future discussions
“Our industry is rapidly changing, and we realize that the producer of 2030 will have different needs and demands on their business,” noted Lynn Rohrscheib, ISA chair and a farmer from Fairmount. “To enable Illinois farmers to produce soybeans more profitably and sustainably in the future, ISA is evolving to better equip growers with new and exciting programs that will benefit all of us and increase markets where we sell our soybeans.”