May 19, 2023

Federal bill would give crop insurance discount to farmers who plant cover crops

Farmers nationwide who plant cover crops could receive a $5-per-acre discount on crop insurance programs under a federal bill introduced Thursday.

Titled the "Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience Program (COVER) Act," the legislation is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove; and Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich. It corresponds with a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. 

"The COVER Act is critical to providing farmers across the nation the tools they need to make their land more resilient in the face of climate-related risks," Casten said in a statement. 

It is endorsed by more than 120 ag, environmental and conservation organizations, including Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Soybean Association.

The bill largely mirrors a program managed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, known as the Fall Covers for Spring Savings Program, which pays Illinois farmers a $5-per-acre crop insurance premium discount for each enrolled and verified cover crop acre in the program.

Now in its fourth year, that program made 160,000 acres eligible statewide for the 2023 period. 

IFB President Richard Guebert Jr. said IFB members who plant cover crops across their fields have benefitted from the IDOA program. 

"That’s why IFB supports Rep. Casten’s COVER Act, which would replicate this incentive program at USDA and expand the ability of farmers to improve soil health, reduce erosion and increase the ability of our soils to sequester carbon," Guebert said. 

Under the COVER Act, USDA would require producers to enroll and report their cover crop acres and offer the $5-per-acre discount through the "Good Steward Cover Crop Program." It would be funded at $60 million starting in fiscal year 2024, then rise to $84 million by fiscal year 2028, with $5 million each year allocated for technical assistance.

All in all, 11 million acres could be enrolled in the first year and nearly 16 million acres by the final funding year. 

The federal program, if approved, would remain voluntary and would not preclude farmers from participating in similar state-administered programs, according to the bill.

The bill would also require USDA, NRCS and FSA to submit annual reports to Congress about program participation, as well as a report examining whether planting cover crops results in "decreased crop insurance payments and stabilized yields," according to bill text.

And the legislation would establish a USDA pilot program to evaluate giving farmers additional crop insurance premium discounts for using "innovative soil health practices" such as "conservation crop rotations," the bill reads.

By:  Timothy Eggert
Source: Farm Week Now