July 27, 2022

Casten Introduces COVER Act to Support Soil Health Practices

Casten Introduces COVER Act to Support Soil Health Practices

Washington, D.C (July 27th, 2022) – Today, U.S. Representatives Sean Casten (IL-06) and Cindy Axne (IA-03) introduced the Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience Program (COVER) Act, which will provide a $5/acre insurance premium subsidy to farmers who plant cover crops to incentivize this important soil health practice.

Healthy soils provide clean air and water, support productive agricultural land, and form the basis of biodiverse wildlife habitats. Yet modern agricultural practices have harmed the health of our soils and contributed to the erosion of 4.63 tons of cropland soil per acre per year. 

Increasing frequency of drought, rain, and extreme weather resulting from climate change will further stress our soils. Climate change will make the federal crop insurance program more expensive and challenging to manage without mitigating actions. Already, we are seeing crop insurance payments rise more than 400% for drought-related losses, and nearly 300% for rain and flooding-related losses between 1995 and 2020. With both drought and excess moisture projected to increase in different parts of the country in the coming decades, we must adapt our food system to be more resilient; promoting soil health is of paramount importance to achieving this goal and farmers can play a vital role.  

Planting cover crops is a critical conservation practice that reduces production risk, prevents erosion, improves soil health and water quality, enhances soil water availability, suppresses weeds, helps control pests and diseases, increases biodiversity, mitigates greenhouse gas emissions and sequesters carbon. Aside from the ecosystem benefits, cover crops also offer economic benefits for individual farmers; planting cover crops can lead to savings on inputs like fertilizer and herbicides and improved yields over time. 

“We are already seeing how the climate crisis is increasing the cost of the federal crop insurance program, and we know that it will continue to do so as more extreme weather events grow more frequent in the future,” said Rep. Sean Casten. “I’m pleased that my home state of Illinois has recognized the importance of cover crops with its own state cover crop discount program. 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.”

"Cover crops are an effective and environmentally-friendly way to enrich the soil for higher crop yields, and we've seen the success of cover crop programs right here in Iowa," said Rep. Cindy Axne. "The COVER Act will make this program available nationwide so more farmers can take advantage of cover crops and help rebuild their soil organic matter. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to support commonsense solutions that promote regenerative agriculture and help farmers be a part of the climate solution.”

“The COVER Act is a game-changer policy that will help farmers create resilient businesses in the face of ever-increasing natural disasters. Cover crops have a host of environmental benefits, like improved soil health, carbon sequestration, and increased water infiltration. The incentives offered in this bill give farmers more financial savings and support for their important work and environmental stewardship.” said Lara Bryant, Deputy Director, Water & Agriculture, NRDC.

“We are grateful for Representative Casten’s leadership introducing this bill. Cover crops are a key to meeting the state’s goals for clean water, healthy soil and sustainable agriculture. This bill takes the next step from the Pandemic Cover Crop Program which helped Illinois farmers, like myself, plant cover crops on thousands of acres,” said Kristopher Reynolds, American Farmland Trust’s Midwest Regional Director. “This program works because it is simple, straightforward, and rewards farmers for the work they do to plant cover crops. We need to do all that we can to continue to bring these kinds of opportunities to farmers.”

“Illinois farmers have long recognized the value of planting cover crops on their farms and have responded positively to the recent pandemic-related crop insurance premium discount offered for planting cover crops.  That’s why Farm Bureau strongly supports Rep. Casten’s COVER Act which would make this program permanent and expand the ability of farmers to improve soil health, reduce erosion, and increase the ability of soils to sequester carbon,” said Illinois Farm Bureau president Richard Guebert, Jr., a Randolph County grain producer.   

Nicole Lederer, Chair and Co-founder, Environmental Entrepreneurs said “Expanding the use of cover crops in American agriculture will yield multiple economic and environmental benefits for farmers and consumers, lowering the costs and pollution associated with fossil inputs while sequestering atmospheric carbon pollution.  The COVER Act is a strategic step to recognize the risk reduction and soil health improvements associated with planting cover crops, and an important tool to help secure America’s farm economy.”

“Cover crops have numerous environmental and economic benefits, like preventing soil erosion, improving soil fertility, and reducing the rate and quantity of water runoff. This bill provides the incentive and technical support needed by producers who would like to try cover crops, but aren’t sure how to start,” said Ben Knuth, agriculture policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. 

“Planting cover crops continues to be one of the most effective and cost-efficient practices our innovative dairy farmers use to build healthy soil, prevent erosion, sequester carbon and protect water quality,” said Brody Stapel, president of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative who farms near Lake Michigan in eastern Wisconsin. “More and more of us are realizing the environmental and financial benefits of this tried-and-true conservation technique. As an incentive to maintain the practice and to bring other farmers on board, the insurance rebate is a relatively small investment that produces outsized dividends.”

Specifically, the COVER Act will:

  • Help Producers Maintain Cover Crop Systems: Creates the Good Steward Cover Crop Program to provide producers a $5 per acre premium subsidy when they enroll in a covered insurance program and plant cover crops for conservation purposes.
    • This program will be fully voluntary and not require farmers to plant cover crops in order to be eligible for crop insurance.
  • Authorize Additional Funding for Technical Assistance: Reserves $5 million for technical assistance, outreach, and program support to help producers access the Good Steward Cover Crop Program. 
  • Create a Soil Health Pilot Program: Authorizes USDA to evaluate how additional premium subsidies can be offered for other soil health practices that reduce risk and comply with the goals of the FCIP.

Rep. Casten has also successfully advocated for the inclusion of language in the FY2023 budget directing USDA to continue their popular cover crop insurance premium subsidy program.

Endorsements: Illinois Farm Bureau, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Danone, Unilever, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Farmland Trust, National Wildlife Federation, Green Cover Seed, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Izaak Walton League of America, Iowa Farmers Union, GO Seed, E2, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Farm Action Fund, and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

Bill text can be found here.

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