American Farmland Trust Applauds USDA Announcement of Pandemic Cover Crop Program
AFT’s research shows a permanent program could have a huge impact — tripling current cover crop acreage would be equivalent to removing 3 million passenger cars from the road.
Washington, D.C. – Today, American Farmland Trust shares its support for the USDA Pandemic Cover Crop Program, calling out its immediate importance as stated by the USDA Risk Management Agency in yesterday’s press release, [to help] “farmers maintain their cover crop systems, despite the financial challenges posed by the pandemic.” AFT believes that this new program will not only help farmers to recover from the impacts of the pandemic but will also help them to “build back better.” Broader cover crop adoption will be a key step toward harnessing agriculture to help solve the climate crisis, while improving soil health, farm productivity, food system resiliency and farmers’ bottom lines.
Despite their proven benefits, as of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, cover crops had only been adopted on less than 5 percent of the 260 million acres of row crops, implying a large future opportunity. While the rate of adoption is accelerating, increasing 50 percent between 2012 and 2017, this gain is still not fast enough to adequately address our nation’s climate and environmental challenges. Cover crops are a proven, low-cost natural climate solution, capable of sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) into soils.
In addition to the climate benefits, cover crops can also stabilize – or even increase – cash crop yields over time by improving soil health, limiting erosion and nutrient loss, controlling weeds and maintaining soil moisture. Cover crops can also reduce the impacts of extreme weather on production, with farmers reporting yield increases in drought years, and earlier planting dates in wet years. AFT’s November 2020 transition recommendation for “Developing a USDA Cover Crop Initiative” shares relevant research and data supporting the multitude of benefits.
“Securing widespread cover crop adoption will require a surge of federal support, technical assistance and agency coordination,” said Tim Fink, AFT Policy Director. “Cover crops are just one in a suite of regenerative agricultural practices that deliver economic benefits to farmers and environmental benefits to society. Because they are the most proven and cost-effective of these practices, it makes them an excellent launching pad for USDA support of regenerative practices on the nation’s farms and ranches.”
In Illinois, AFT advocated alongside partners for a cover crop insurance rebate program. The “Fall Covers for Spring Savings (FCSS)” program saw record participation in 2021, accepting only one quarter of acres due to the strong demand for the program. Beyond the program, Illinois farmland planted to cover crops doubled since 2018 to nearly 1.4 million acres as farmers observed the success of the practices on neighboring fields. AFT Midwest Policy Manager, Max Webster’s blog published today, “Illinois Takes Big Regenerative Agriculture Steps” celebrates Illinois’ passage of a new state budget this week which included a doubling of funding for FCSS to support cover crop adoption on 100,000 acres.
In a recent op-ed, AFT Midwest Regional Director and 5th generation farmer, Kris Reynolds shared reasons we must support farmers with policy, funding and technical assistance.
“So why don’t more farmers do it? Farming is a business with a lot of overhead and small margins. It’s risky to change the way you operate, and it takes a few years to see the payoff. Farmers think of cover crops just like any other farm input. At the end of the day, I make management decisions to improve the profitability of my farming operation. If I don’t, there won’t be any sixth- or seventh-generation Reynolds farming in Montgomery County.”
American Farmland Trust will continue to advocate for additional agency and congressional support for cover crop adoption on farms across the nation. This will include working to support legislation such as the Growing Climate Solutions Act and the Agriculture Resilience Act, both of which would help incentivize adoption. In addition, AFT will continue to push for a broader USDA initiative that will provide long-term support and prioritization for the adoption of this important regenerative practice.
American Farmland Trust is the only national conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since 1980, AFT’s innovative work has helped to permanently protect more than 6.8 million acres of farmland and ranchland and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more. No Farms, No Food. Learn more at www.farmland.org.