AFT Works to Nationalize Popular Iowa Program in Next Farm Bill
(Nokomis, IL) After listening to the voices of farmers across the nation during a 2022 series of regional workshops, American Farmland Trust (AFT) is working to advance policies in the next Farm Bill that will make it easier for farmers to adopt conservation practices. One such policy, the Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience (COVER) Act, is based off of the hugely popular Iowa Crop Insurance Discount Program that began in 2017. Under the leadership of Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Governor Terry Branstad Iowa’s trailblazing program provides a $5 per acre crop insurance premium discount to farmers who plant cover crops.
“As a farmer, I know firsthand how important cover crops are to reducing risk and improving profitability, soil health, water quality, and resilience to flooding and drought,” said Kris Reynolds, AFT’s Midwest Director. “The COVER Act would support thousands of farmers in voluntarily adopting this crucial practice without adding any red tape.”
Since launching in Iowa, the state program has provided over $5 million in savings for 2,000 farmers, and supported cover crop planting on nearly 1 million acres. The success of this program model influenced the creation of similar programs in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and then in 2021 and 2022 the USDA offered this same discount to farmers across the country.
The USDA program saved Iowa farmers a total of $9 million and supported the planting of nearly 900,000 acres of cover crops each year. Research shows that cover crop discount programs have helped to spur the use of this practice on new acres – a recent survey from the National Wildlife Federation found that 24% of farmers enrolled in these programs said that this was their first time planting cover crops on at least some of their land.
However, because the USDA program was supported through temporary funding, it will not continue beyond its second year without congressional action. The COVER Act, which was introduced by Representative Casten (D-Ill) in 2022, would aim to make this program part of the Farm Bill to continue offering savings to farmers across the country who plant cover crops.
“With two senators and two representatives on the agriculture committees, Iowa is uniquely positioned to lead on this policy in the next Farm Bill,” said Reynolds. “For this to happen, Congress needs to hear from farmers and other constituents about this important opportunity.”
Cover crops provide a wide range of benefits including reduced soil erosion, improved water quality, and greater resilience to flooding and drought. They have also been shown, over time, to increase yields and reduce the need for expensive inputs such as fertilizer.
Adopting these risk-reducing conservation practices could even help reduce expected climate-change-induced increases to the cost of the crop insurance program. The USDA’s Economic Research Service predicts costs to increase by as much as 37% in the next century if such risk-reducing practices are not adopted. Data from Iowa fields, and other Midwest states, informed a recent study by the AGree Coalition, which found cover crops and no-till are particularly useful in helping to reduce “prevent plant,” when a farmer is unable to plant a crop in the spring due to poor planting conditions. The USDA’s Risk Management Agency recently identified expanding cover crops as one of its top priorities for protecting the crop insurance program and mitigating climate risks.
In addition to support from AFT, the COVER act is endorsed by the Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Environmental Council, and other farm and conservation groups. AFT is also sponsoring a radio ad about this bill, which will air this month in Iowa and can be found here.
American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.