New Cover Crop Program Provides Farmers a Safety Net
If you haven’t heard, World Soils Day was on Dec. 5. In light of that special day, I am so thrilled to report that the Illinois Department of Agriculture has just announced that sign-up is open for its “Fall Covers for Spring Savings: Cover Crop Premium Discount Program.”
Over the past two years, AFT has been working with nearly 20 individuals from agriculture, environment, and conservation organizations to discuss what a crop insurance premium discount program for cover crops would look like in Illinois. The Illinois legislature approved a new line item in the Illinois Department of Agriculture budget for $300,000 to fund the crop insurance premium discount program for cover crops.
This December, I will be working with the Department of Agriculture to help launch this program and implement a $5 per acre premium discount available to farmers using cover crops. This pilot program will test whether a small crop insurance premium discount applied to fields planted in cover crops would incentivize more use of the practice across Illinois. The proposal intends to have 50,000 acres enrolled in the first year, 100,000 acres enrolled in the second year, and 200,000 acres enrolled in the third year.
Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that provides protection for farmers after bad weather impacts their crop yields. Cover crops can improve the resiliency of Illinois farm operations by improving the soil’s ability to absorb and hold water for crops. In other words, when managed well, cover crops can reduce the risk of yield being impacted by bad weather.
Cover crops also improve water quality by keeping nutrients in place to be used by the next crop. Cover crops are one of the main in-field management practices listed in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy as having the potential to reduce nutrient losses by at least 30%.
Illinois is not the only state to recognize that cover crops provide farmers a safety net. Food Ag and Policy recently released a full land assessment on all the cover crop programs and incentives across the United States. The list is promising and I hope to see it continue to grow.
There are about 29 U.S. states that support cover crop education, technical assistance, or incentive payment programs within their state. By far, the most common programs include incentive payments or grants to farmers or NGO’s who work with farmers.
I’m so proud to say that the AFT-supported Illinois cover crop premium discount program is listed as one of them, as well as a few other programs AFT is involved with. If you’re interested in this program, please contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District. Additionally, applications for the program are available online at IDoA Cover Crops Premium Discount Program.
Being a passionate Illinois crop farmer myself, I will continue the battle in making sure we are not only helping provide technical assistance to our farmers, but that we are able to protect the longevity of their farms. As we face the production and sustainability challenges of the 21st century, focusing on soil health and water quality is the right thing to do – and now is the right time to do it.