In the spirit of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, I wanted to talk about superheroes. My favorite superhero just happens to be the Star-Spangled Banner-waving Captain America. It doesn’t get more patriotic than the Captain, with his star-bedecked vibranium shield and red, white and blue outfit.

When it comes to superheroes in the agriculture industry, for the 2019 crop year, growers who plant cover crops are the true heroes. You could call them “Protectors of the Soil.” And with all the trouble growers had this year getting spring cash crops in the ground, recent announcements from the USDA will make the task of saving soil with covers a little easier.

In previous years, the government says, acres planted with covers have averaged from 3-6 million. But the USDA recognizes that 2019 is a year for the record books, especially when it comes to planting conditions, says Bill Northey, Undersecretary of Agriculture. “Worse than anything we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” he adds.

USDA is trying to lessen the burden on growers during this difficult crop year by providing payments through the department’s Market Facilitation Program (MFP) for those producers who seed covers on their prevent plant acres.

“We are not basing the MFP payment on individually planted acres,” says Steve Peterson, USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Associate Administrator. “Acres have to be planted, but they don’t have to be to the specific commodity. Because we have prevent planting so widespread, ultimately, a cover crop can be used in lieu of a planted crop to maintain eligibility for the MFP in 2019 for minimal payment.”

The USDA anticipates at least $1 billion in prevent planting crop insurance claims on approximately 10 million acres and officials are encouraging farmers to consider planting covers.

“It just does a great job managing soil erosion and controlling our weeds and pests to really improve soil health,” says NRCS chief Matt Lohr.

Additionally, farmers in Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma or South Dakota can sign up for cover crop cost-share assistance through a special EQIP signup this year, as they’re offering additional dollars to producers, according to Lohr.

The countdown is on for growers, as the deadline to submit prevent planting crop insurance claims is in a mere 2 weeks. Many producers have already received their payouts as of July 1, according to USDA Risk Management Agency chief of staff Keith Gray.

“We’ve paid roughly $151 million in claims,” Gray says. MFP payment eligibility in 2019 applies to crops including alfalfa hay, barley, canola, corn, crambe, dry peas, extra-long staple cotton, flaxseed, lentils, long grain and medium grain rice, millet, mustard seed, dried beans, oats, peanuts, rapeseed, rye, safflower, sesame seed, small and large chickpeas, sorghum, soybeans, sunflower seed, temperate japonica rice, triticale, upland cotton and wheat.

Corn and soybeans can also be planted as covers, according to the USDA, but cannot be harvested for grain if a prevent plant claim has been filed.

It’s not too late to become a soil superhero on your own and get cover crops seeded to save your soil and boost your bottom line. Knowing there’s financial help available should make this a no-brainer for most growers.