The AGree E2 Coalition works to improve information about and remove federal policy barriers to the adoption of cover cropping, a recognized Good Farming Practice that reduces soil erosion, improves soil health, suppresses weeds, retains moisture, and reduces nutrient runoff.
During 2018 Farm Bill negotiations, the AGree E2 Coalition successfully lobbied for a provision that removed barriers to adoption of cover crops within federal crop insurance, which was included in the bill’s final text. Even though cover cropping is one of USDA’s recognized Good Farming Practices, a farmer’s crop insurance could have been jeopardized by planting a cover crop. The AGree E2 Coalition worked to change this guidance through Farm Bill advocacy efforts, public advertising, collaborating with partners on Capitol Hill on a letter signed by 8 U.S. Senators, and publishing letters of support and press releases.
In July 2019, USDA implemented this clarified guidance, which provides important flexibility and greater certainty for farmers to harvest, graze, and terminate cover crops and maintain eligibility for federal crop insurance on their primary cash crop. This was a clear win for both food producers and their land!
In March 2020, Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020, which encourages wider use of cover crops by removing roadblocks for farmers who have prevented planting claims and supports research to better understand the risk management benefits of agricultural conservation practice. The AGree Coalition published a letter in support of this bill, which allows farmers who are prevented from planting their intended crop to seed cover crops and thereby salvage minimal value from their fields, while reducing erosion, improving soil health, and reducing their long-term risk.
The AGree E2 Coalition continues to advocate for federal policy improvements, such as those included in the 2018 Farm Bill and Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020, that increase support for widespread adoption of important good farming practices that have positive environmental and economic outcomes.
LANDSCAPE ASSESSMENT OF COVER CROP RESOURCES
In Fall 2019, the AGree E2 Coalition conducted a landscape assessment of existing cover crop resources available nationwide in order to help policymakers, farmers, and advocacy groups understand the full scope of cover crop programs and incentives.
We found that across the United States, varying programs and policies are available to assist farmers, nongovernmental organizations, schools, and soil and water conservation districts in promoting the education and adoption of cover cropping. Federally, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are the most popular sources for federal cover crop incentive payments.
At least 29 U.S. states support cover crop education, technical assistance, or incentive payment programs within their state. By far, the most common programs include incentive payments or grants to farmers or NGOs who work with farmers. These programs are often implemented through county-level soil and water conservation districts, who work closely with individual producers to provide technical and financial assistance to support the implementation of agricultural best management practices.
Companies and NGOs have also collaborated to develop supply chain incentives for cover crop adoption by domestic farmers. For example, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Cargill have partnered with Practical Farmers of Iowa to provide per-acre incentive payments to Iowa farmers who plant cover crops. These innovative company initiatives reflect the growing acknowledgement that planting cover crops provides economic and environmental benefits that accrue across food and agriculture.