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Illinois to test cover crop reward program with $5-acre payments


DEKALB, Ill. — Farmers planting cover crops will be eligible for a $5 per acre reward on acres not receiving cost share funding from other sources, under a new program supporting the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS).

Farmers will need to certify their cover crop acres with USDA’s Farm Service Agency in the fall, using FSA 578 forms to apply, according to the American Farmland Trust (AFT), one of several agricultural, environmental, and conservation organizations in support of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s (IDOA) Crop Insurance Reward Pilot Program.

“After two years of working collaboratively statewide, I am ecstatic that a crop insurance program with such potential is included in the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s budget,” said Jennifer Filipiak, Midwest regional director for AFT.

The Illinois program closely mirrors a similar three-year demonstration program rolled out in neighboring Iowa in 2018. That program, which was initiated in support of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, enrolled more than 170,000 acres for cover crops, not supported by other state or federal programs last year.

“When we had that first meeting to talk about replicating the Iowa program here, we knew that the biggest obstacle would be to find the funding. I’m so excited that the state of Illinois has taken such a significant step to promote this well-tested conservation practice,” Filipiak explained.

IDOA’s fiscal year 2019 budget includes $300,000 to fund the new pilot program, which is intended to test whether a small crop insurance reward applied to fields planted in cover crops would incentivize more use of the practice in Illinois.

Although the Illinois NLRS was adopted in 2015, the funding represents the first time any money has been approved to incentivize tenets of the strategy, such as cover crops, since the program’s inception. The NLRS identified cover crops as a key method to reduce nitrate and phosphorus loss from nonpoint sources, said Kris Reynolds, a certified crop adviser and AFT Midwest director.

“Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that provides protection for farmers when adverse weather impacts their crop yields,” he noted. “Because of the diverse group of partners supporting this program, we were able to make it happen. Thank you, (IDOA), for taking an interest in this program and approving it.”

The University of Illinois farmdoc team issued economic suggestions for cover crops earlier this year, including:

•Use cover crops on owned or shared fields (or share rented) to allay costs

•Use continual cover crops on the same field

•Come up with a method to chart your cover crops’ efficiency and costs

•Use cover crops in no-till scenarios for best results; herbicides used to kill cover crop

•Keep seed costs low with low seeding rates and best prices

•Maximize additional herbicide applications and costs

Convincing farmers and the landowners whom they rent cropland from to embrace cover can be challenging for seed retailers such as Brian Wieland, a CCA with Saddle Butte Ag Inc. in Princeville, Ill.

“I think some farmers almost feel that they are going to fail at it and cause the landowner an issue, so they avoid it altogether,” he said, adding the No. 1 benefit he has seen from cover crops is the reduction of nitrate loss in tile-drained soils. “In our area, this takes on huge importance.”

Wieland commented during a recent cover crops seminar in East Peoria, “We may not necessarily see a yield or profit bump, but the retention of (nitrogen) is a big reason for cover crops in no-till systems.”

For step-by-step instructions on how to apply for the IDOA Crop Insurance Reward Pilot Program, contact your local FSA office, or call the AFT Midwest Office in Sycamore at 217-556-1896.