Should growers who plant cover crops get a discount on their crop insurance? Many conservation advocates think so, and that’s why a $3 million pilot project was kicked off 2 years ago in Iowa.

Growers who sign up for this Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship program and plant cover crops on their farm can get up to a $5-per-acre discount on their insurance rate, which is significant because rates tend to run $13-$15 per acre.

In 2017, the first year of the demonstration project, there were 168,708 acres funded and $843,540 spent, reports the Cedar Rapids Gazette. That fell to 135,266 acres and $676,300 in 2018, and participation may be even lower this year due to weather challenges.

West Branch, Iowa grower Jake Pedersen tells the newspaper he’s seen less runoff since he signed up for the program and started planting covers on his 2,200-acre farm, and the incentive is key to ensuring he stays committed to making covers work.

Pedersen started with the $25-per-acre cost share and since 2017 has received the $5-per-acre incentive through his crop insurance. He also participates in a program in which he sells soybeans to Cargill, which provides a per-acre incentive if the beans were produced in conjunction with cover crops, The Gazette reports.

If researchers can show land with cover crops has less risk, then that could persuade the USDA to provide an actual discount.

“If they can compare that and can show they had less of a loss with those with cover crops, that would help us figure out how that would be rated,” Bill Northey, U.S. undersecretary for farm production and conservation and former Iowa agriculture secretary, told The Gazette.

Northey, who sits on the board of the Federal Crop Insurance Corp., points out some difficulties that would need to be overcome to implement a large-scale program, such as addressing privacy laws and being able to prove cover crops were, in fact, seeded.

Iowa farmers who aren’t receiving other cover crop subsidies can apply for this crop insurance incentive through Jan. 15 at

The USDA needs to take a serious look at bolstering the scale of these incentive programs in the next several years, perhaps working first with states where major watersheds have the biggest runoff issues. Even though cover crop acres increased by nearly 50% between 2012 and 2017 in the U.S., we’re barely scratching the potential.

It’s also important for the USDA to seek support from the private sector, such as with Cargill and their program. With our nation’s national debt climbing over $23 trillion, it’s tough to predict what appetite lawmakers will have in the future for taxpayer-backed farm subsidies.

I’d rather see hard-earned taxpayer dollars go in farmers’ pockets and potentially address soil health and environmental issues head-on than have it fill the pockets of lawyers hawking endless lawsuits.