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Results of the Conservation and Crop Insurance Research Pilot

7 March 2023

In 2019, unusually wet weather prevented planting on 19.6 million acres in the Midwest, resulting in $4.2 billion in prevented plant insurance claims. In partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and USDA, AGree developed the Conservation and Crop Insurance Research Pilot to analyze data from six states—Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and South Dakota—to better understand how use of cover crops and tillage practices affected corn and soybean planting dates, the number of prevent plant acres, and crop yields in that extremely wet spring of 2019.

On March 2 at 2:00 pm ET AGree hosted a virtual webinar to discuss the results of the Conservation and Crop Insurance pilot research project. The webinar was moderated by AGree Strategic Advisor and Meridian Institute Senior Fellow Deborah Atwood, and featured the following panelists:

  • Bill Northey, Chief Executive Officer of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and former USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation
  • Rob Myers, Director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at University of Missouri. Dr. Myers provided conservation expertise to the research team and has led efforts to communicate the research results.
  • Bruce Sherrick, Director of the TIAA Center for Farmland Research at University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign. Dr. Sherrick led the team to collect, assess, organize, and evaluate data from relevant sources at USDA and the private sector.

Panelists discussed the project’s seminal finding on the positive impact of conservation practices for reducing crop production risk. Across the 6-state region, consistent use of cover crops and no-till/reduced-till resulted in a 24% reduction in the odds ratio of prevent-plant loss in 2019. These findings demonstrate that conservation practices can help farmers mitigate their risk of wet weather conditions.

The study, the first of its kind, also tested whether data collected by USDA on conservation practice adoption and crop insurance indemnities could be combined with external satellite datasets to conduct rigorous scientific research in a way that protects producer’s personally identifiable information.

“The first and foremost consideration [for data sharing between researchers and USDA] is that the data be handled in a way that protects consumer privacy…this pilot project showed that can readily be done.” –Rob Myers

Through an agreement with USDA, the project used data from the Risk Management Agency (RMA), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in combination with public, private, and other institutional data procured separately.

“I have more confidence in these results that any I’ve ever seen before, because we have more and better data than any I’ve ever seen.” –Dr. Bruce Sherrick

The results of this research can assist USDA in carrying out its conservation and crop risk management mission areas. The results can also help inform farmer decision-making about whether and where to implement conservation practices.

“Just the suggestion that you’re less likely to have a prevent plant claim if you’re running no-till and cover crops…that’s going to drive even more producers to be able to understand the benefits of those practices.” –Bill Northey

The research team identified key recommendations and opportunities for USDA to improve its data collection. Recommendations include determining an effective method for collecting annual cover crop and no-till usage data on a field-by-field basis; gathering more consistent, relevant data at the geographic unit and reporting with the same geographic identifiers; pursue standardization and synchronization of time stamps for reported crop management practices and results in terms of yields; and more.

Watch the webinar recording:

Results of the Conservation and Crop Insurance Pilot

Our Conservation and Crop Insurance Research Pilot analyzed USDA and third-party datasets to show how use of cover crops and/or no-till practices reduced the likelihood that farmers made a prevented planting claim in 2019.