NRDC: COVER Act Will Finally Make Cover Crop Benefits Accessible to All Farmers
WASHINGTON —A key bicameral bill to incent the use of cover crops across the country was re-introduced today. The Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience (COVER) Program Act, which would provide a $5 per acre discount on crop insurance for farmers who plant cover crops, is led in the House by Representative Sean Casten (D-IL06) and Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI07) and in the Senate by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
“Cover crops are a win-win-win-win for farmers: they save money, increase yields, improve soil, and protect essential water resources,” notes Lara Bryant, Deputy Director of Water and Agriculture at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and a leading backer of the COVER Act. “There just aren’t many practices that have such massive positive impacts. The COVER Act finally recognizes cover crops are a feasible, long-standing risk management tool for farmers. The value of cover crops has never been in doubt, but they have been underutilized as a practice that can help build resilience and prevent crop loss. This bill finally puts the ag sector and surrounding communities in position to realize all the essential benefits of cover crops.”
The COVER Act would codify a Good Steward Cover Crop program, which will mirror the cover crop pilot program that was available through USDA in 2021 and 2022, and the state programs currently available in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Crop insurance is a risk management tool that provides critical support to farmers across the country, many of whom have reported increased damage and claims from floods, drought, and other natural disasters. Cover crops enhance resilience to these events by reducing erosion and increasing soil organic matter and water infiltration while improving water quality and sequestering carbon. They also provide farmers economic benefits by saving them money on inputs, such as increasingly costly fertilizer and herbicides, and improving their yields over time. Farmers overwhelmingly support policies that give people who plant cover crops reduced crop insurance premiums.
Adopting these risk-managing conservation practices can reduce the cost of the taxpayer-funded crop insurance program—which, according to the Economic Research Service, is expected to grow by as much as 20-30 percent in the next century depending on how quickly practices to adapt to climate change are adopted. A 2021 study found that counties experiencing drought with higher soil organic matter saw higher yields and lower rates of crop insurance payouts, with a 1 percent increase in organic matter associated with 30-40 percent lower crop insurance payout rates on average. Two recent studies also found that cover crops reduced crop losses from wet spring weather, with a 1% increase in cover crops translating to $40 million in reduced crop insurance payouts. USDA’s Risk Management Agency recently identified expanding cover crops as one of its top priorities for protecting the crop insurance program and mitigating climate risks.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.