It seems like spring is trying to come already. Temperatures are rising and the snow is melting off, which means that spring fever is in full bloom in many places.
As we head into the 2020 growing season, many growers have probably put some thought to whether or not they will grow cover crops, and the reasons as to why or why not they will do so.
Additional cost is one of the reasons why some growers have yet to fully embrace cover crops. Yes, planting covers do have some base costs involved— the cost of the seed, fuel, wear and tear on equipment and maybe dollars for a hired hand for planting. For some there may be costs associated with terminating certain species of covers as well.
For those growers who are already squeezing by, cover crops might look like just another line item — one that they couldn’t afford, even if they wanted to.
One way to get more growers to use cover crops is to incentivize them, and for crop insurance programs to reward growers who utilize good soil health practices such as covers. These incentives will allow growers to take advantage of the benefits cover crops can provide, while not having to adjust their already tight margins.
Illinois has a program called the Illinois Cover Crop Premium Discount Program, which is also known as Fall Covers for Spring Savings (FCSS). The FCSS is specifically designed to encourage growers to plant additional acres of covers that are not already covered by other state or federal incentives.
FCSS has been wildly successful. It launched on December 4, 2019, and within the first 7 business days it met the 50,000 acre cap. By the Jan. 15 , 2020 deadline more than 136,000 acres had been submitted to participate in the incentive. More than 200 farmers applied to FCSS from 57 Illinois counties.
Currently, only two states offer crop insurance discounts for cover crops — Iowa and Illinois. The Illinois Department of Agriculture received $300,000 from the Illinois Legislature for the crop insurance premium discounts to be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
To get more growers to participate in these programs, the funding has to be leveraged and it has to be easy to enroll. Making enrollments available online or through an easy paper hard copy can help make the process seamless, and not discourage growers who don’t have time to sit around doing more paperwork. This takes a lot of jumping through hoops on the political and financial level, but it’s worth it. We aren’t paying our lawmakers to make people’s lives more difficult.
Many states offer the EQIP program through NRCS or other incentives, but those incentives have yet to really move the needle with cover crop adoption. More states should follow the lead of Iowa and Illinois and help growers by minimizing the cost barrier to using cover crops.