The Stewardship Committee of the Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District has developed a FREE tool to assist farm operators to evaluate their own nutrient loss management practices and to promote “best management practices” on individual fields.
The S.T.A.R. (Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources) evaluation system assigns points for each cropping, tillage, nutrient application and soil conservation activity used on individual fields.  The total points are then used in a scale to determine a rating of 1 to 5 Stars for each individual field based on the management practices being used. 
The benefits of using this program include:
Decreased nutrient loss, potential increased net farm income, potential to gain new farms to lease, land owners can evaluate tenants’ contributions to conservation, assist in securing local conservation cost share (when available), assist producers in obtaining documentation to support potential water quality issues, and assist producers to obtain potential market premiums for conservation cropping practices.
We were very encouraged that so many of you found S.T.A.R. to be important enough to participate.  For the 2017 crop year, there were 104 fields rated for 78 different individuals, including 30 from 14 other counties!  A number of those counties will have their own licensed S.T.A.R. program in 2018.
The CCSWCD Stewardship Committee is in the final stages of developing the Field Form for 2018.  There will be some minor changes, but the goal will still be the same:  To help farmers and landowners to evaluate their use of best management practices that will reduce soil and nutrient losses while having minimal impact on yields. The program will continue to be FREE!  If you are interested in participating in the S.T.A.R. program, please check back after June 1, 2018, or email CCSWCD Staff.
Please click here to watch a 15 minute audio program with slides for more details.  

S.T.A.R. (FAQ) Frequently Asked Questions
1.  What is the definition of the “Crop Year?”  The time frame of the evaluation and rating should begin the day after fall harvest through the end of harvest of the following year.  Example: 2018 cropping year is the first day after fall harvest of 2017 through the end of Fall harvest of 2018.  If a cover crop is planted in an existing crop during the fall of the preceding year, that activity will be credited to the rating year.
2.  How do I record my cover crop species?  Mark any species of cover crop plants being utilized. If the cover crop you are utilizing is not listed, please record as “Mix”.
3.  How do I measure the “residue coverage”? There are many resources that will help you learn to calculate the coverage, including your District Resource Conservationist.  Here are some other sources:
4.  If I apply no nitrogen or phosphorus during a cropping year, should I only mark those relevant statements under the Fall Applied Nutrient Activities?  Yes.
5.  When would nutrient activities be considered “Winter applied.”? If Phosphorus or Potash are applied on frozen ground, the appropriate items should be checked in that section.
6.  Why am I asked for the “Tillage Practices” in Section 21?  The information in this section is only to help clarify the activities that would contribute to the residue coverage and other factors.
7.  Who will know my S.T.A.R. rating(s)?  We will not advertise your rating(s) or inform anyone but you.  You will be encouraged to post your optional field sign(s). The information collected on a field will be placed into that field’s NRCS folder, which is not FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) able.
8.  How will my answers to the form(s) be verified?  The County Resource Conservationist will typically have enough knowledge of any farm to know if there are inconsistencies.  However, the CCSWCD will use random sampling to conduct a check of 10% of the fields each year.
9.  Why is my contact information needed?  Once your field is rated, we need to contact you to let you know the results and to offer a field sign for posting.
10.  Is a post provided with the sign?  No
11.  Should I mark something on each section of the Field Form?  Yes, it is very important to mark EACH section to clarify what was done or not done, noting there are similar questions for both the fall of the previous year and the spring.