While much has been written on the economic aspects of the 2018 Farm Bill, the legislation included a number of items of special interest to no-tillers. Probably the most important one is new language specifically defining the rules for cover crop termination.

Passed in mid-December, the 807-page $867 billion Farm Bill (that’s more than $1 billion per page) offers new opportunities for no-till, strip-till, soil health, carbon sequestration and their impact on climate change.

Cover Crop Language

The new Farm Bill provides badly needed language improvements within the federal crop insurance program in regard to managing cover crops. These clarifications will make it easier for no-tillers to manage risks while protecting soil and water quality.

In the past, there’s been considerable confusion regarding insurance coverage when no-tillers have used cover crops, largely regarding the rules meant for cover crop termination. In interpreting the old rules, some adjustors went so far as to argue the use of cover crops invalidated insurance protection for the next crop. In some instances, the cover crop was determined to be the main crop.

Under the old definition, it wasn’t clear when cover crop growth actually ended. Was it when the herbicide was applied? When 50% of the field was dead? Or not until every single cover crop plant has died?

“We could never get a straight answer in regard to cover crop termination from the Risk Management Agency,” says Ryan Stockwell, the director of sustainable agriculture for the National Wildlife Federation and a no-tiller in Medford, Wis. “We now have a new definition and effective language that spells this out.”

This clarification should correct the belief among some in the ag industry that planting and terminating cover crops could jeopardize crop insurance eligibility.

More research funded by the Farm Bill will look at the role of cover crops and no-till in reducing cropping risks. This should improve the long-term picture with the determination of risk ratings with cover crops.

“We’re laying out the first steps in a long journey that we’re making toward a crop insurance system that is more actuarially accurate in its risk ratings for individual producers relating to cover crops and no-till practices,” says Stockwell.

Diversified Rotations

There’s also Farm Bill language to encourage no-tillers to diversify their rotations, as crop insurance will hopefully be available for more crops. In fact, the Farm Bill calls on the Secretary of Agriculture to look at creating insurance products for alternative crops. 

“The secretary is to report on strategies to minimize and deal with catastrophic losses for those crops,” Stockwell says.

The Farm Bill also funds a feasibility study for evaluating government and university data to help growers pinpoint the impact cover crops, no-till and other conservation practices can have on yields, conservation practice adoption and risk management. However, this data is not to be shared for any purpose other than research. 

“It requires the ag secretary, by December of 2019, to submit a report to figure out the steps to making that data functional and accessible,” says Stockwell. “This will help us gather data to confirm what we’ve known generally, anecdotally and experientially as farmers about the value of no-till and cover crops. 

“By adopting these practices, it will demonstrate that there’s reduced yield risk and better ways to manage the risks associated with weather.”

No-Till vs. Climate Change

Farm Bill funding also reflects the fact that the ag industry is starting to look at the impacts of climate change. It includes a $25 million climate-friendly soil health pilot program that will incentivize and reward carbon sequestration by farmers through the use of no-till, strip-till, cover crops and more diverse crop rotations.

From a no-tiller’s point of view, the new Farm Bill offers no-tillers a number of new opportunities for saving soil, reducing input costs, getting more efficient and protecting the environment. All these programs represent a win-win situation for you and other no-tillers!