The time and effort it takes to preserve the natural resources on his spread east of Mason is worth it to Roy Bailey.

"I believe in taking care of our natural resources," he said. "We need to use them wisely. We shouldn't abuse them or exhaust them."

His biggest concern is keeping fertile soil from flowing away when it rains.

"Some may end up in a ditch," John Bailey, Roy's son, said. "And some ends up in the gulf."

But with the right farming practices, Bailey, 72, prevents that from happening.

He doesn't till the soil, Bailey said, because he can control erosion and cut costs, all while still getting similar yields to tilled fields.

He's also a firm believer in cover crops.

Cover crops, as the name suggests, cover the soil and protect it from rain and flooding. Cover crops are planted in fall and are either left to freeze in winter or killed with spray. Then, in spring, the money-making crops – soybeans and corn for this area – get planted in the remnants of the fall crops.

In one of Bailey's fields, about three miles from his home, lines of vibrant green soybeans grow in the shadow of gray, dead cereal rye. Bailey said that at one time this sloping field struggled to hold its topsoil. Not anymore.

Though cover crops have their benefits, Bailey said, using them means more work for the farmer. After Bailey harvests his soybeans in fall, he'll have to get to work and plant cover crops for next year's soybeans.

The added workload has kept many farmers from implementing cover crops.

"It's higher management," John Bailey said. "It adds to the workload. But small farmers have the ability to manage these things."

Next to his crops, Bailey has let prairie fields grow. And in his woodlands, Bailey cuts down invasive shrubs that would otherwise smother and keep healthy trees from springing up.

The property Bailey lives on with his wife, Betty, has been in her family since the 1940s. The pair moved there in 1995 after Roy left his job as an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For all his efforts, Roy and his family were chosen as the 2015 Conservation Farm Family of the Year by the Effingham County Soil & Water Conservation District.

"There's a lot of people meddling in the same thing as us," Bailey said. "The award grows attention to the fact that these things ought to be considered in order to preserve natural resources. It lets people know natural resources are important."

"I'm a little disappointed in farmers that don't look at earth as a living thing," he continued. "We need to be thankful for the very basic things we have and keep them around."

Stan Polanski can be reached at or 217-347-7151 ext. 131.

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