Congratulations to Illinois, the second state in the nation to offer its farmers a crop insurance reward for cover crops!
Cover crops are a tremendously important practice for improving soil health and reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to waterways. Friday, Illinois took an important step toward meeting its nutrient loss reduction goals by funding the Fall Covers for Spring Savings Program in the Illinois budget.
Illinois Department of Agriculture has shown enthusiastic support for the program, which was proposed by American Farmland Trust and other local stakeholders, and follows the model of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s crop insurance demonstration pilot, with a few differences. The Illinois program is starting smaller, with enough funding for 50,000 acres of cover crops in its pilot year. The Illinois program proposes to work closely with the Illinois Soil & Water Conservation Districts to help promote the program to farmers and verify the cover-cropped acres.
This new program and the return to full funding for Illinois conservation districts is good news in tough times. Tariffs, years of declining commodity prices, and volatile weather conditions driven by climate change have all taken a toll in farm country. Any support for conservation can help ensure that soil erosion and water quality doesn’t go from bad to worse and that farmers are set up for success through better soil health.
NRDC originally came up with the idea of state-funded crop insurance incentives, and we have been collaborating with local partners in different states (starting in Iowa) to encourage crop insurance pilot programs. Our partners in Illinois put a lot of hard work into advocating for this program and ensuring that Illinois farmers have this additional incentive to improve soil health on their farms. American Farmland Trust led the effort to get the program over the finish line, working with Illinois Corn Growers, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts, The Nature Conservancy, Delta Institute, Prairie Rivers Network, the Izaak Walton League, Illinois Environmental Council and, last but not least, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) and USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA). IDOA and RMA now have the funding to put the Fall Covers for Spring Savings program into place so that cover crop farmers can plant their covers this fall, sign up for the program, and see the benefit of a reduced crop insurance bill in 2020. We will be working closely with our partners to track the program and support its successful launch.