Let Us Celebrate! Illinois Department Of Agriculture Accepts The Crop Insurance Reward Program For Cover Crops!

We are happy to announce that the Illinois Department of Agriculture will be adopting and implementing a crop insurance reward program for cover crops called “Fall Covers for Spring Savings: Crop Insurance Reward Pilot Program.” Late Friday night, the Illinois state budget was approved, and includes $300,000 in support of the new pilot program. 

Over a year and a half ago, when a similar program was implemented in Iowa, farmers, agricultural, and conservation groups thought a similar program tailored to Illinois could be implemented here to help meet the goals of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy to reduce the loss of nitrate and phosphorous from non-point sources.  

AFT brought together nearly 20 individuals from agricultural, environmental, and conservation organizations to discuss what a program would look like in Illinois. We knew our biggest struggle would be to find funding as Illinois had been in a budget crisis for several years. But we also knew we had to find cost effective strategies to implement the NLRS. Cover crops are a main component of the NLRS and one of the best practices available to reduce nitrate and phosphorous loss from non-point sources.  

Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that provides protection for farmers when adverse weather impacts their crop yields. For the past year and a half, we have been working with a diverse coalition to make a $5/acre reward available to farmers using cover crops,” said Kris Reynolds, AFT Midwest deputy director. “If you were to ask me a year ago if we would ever get this program in Illinois I would say no way. Because of the diverse group of partners supporting this program—we were able to make this happen. The right legislators and the right people in the department of ag had to approve this. Thank you, Illinois Department of Agriculture, for taking an interest in this program and approving it.”  

A cover crop is a type of plant (for example, grasses or legumes) that is used in conservation and crop production practices to reduce nutrient leaching, soil loss, and runoff, while also improving soil health. Over time these improvements increase nutrient efficiency and crop yields, reduce sediment and nutrient losses, and make farms more resilient to extreme weather conditions. A similar pilot program in Iowa, started in 2018, has been very effective—receiving applications for more than 170,000 additional cover crop acres.   

AFT believed a crop insurance reward program for cover crops in Illinois would be just as effective—and our belief was heard.  

“After nearly two years of working collaboratively statewide, I am ecstatic that a crop insurance program with such potential is included in the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s budget,” remarked Jennifer Filipiak, Midwest Regional Director for AFT. “When we had that first meeting to talk about replicating the Iowa program here, we knew the biggest obstacle would be to find the funding. I’m so excited that the state of Illinois has taken such a significant step to promote this well-tested conservation practice.” 

Achieving soil health is part of a systems approach to agricultural production that benefits that reduces nutrient and sediment loss, while improving the resilience of the soil to extreme weather. Over time, farmers who implement soil health management systems are able to optimize inputs, see reduced fuel and labor costs, all while maintaining or improving yield. As we face the production and sustainability challenges of the 21st century, focusing on soil health is the right thing to do – and now is the right time to do it.