By TIM ALEXANDER
DEKALB, Ill. — Sorting out the limitations and benefits of conservation and carbon credit programs that involve cover crops can be confusing, to say the least. To help farmers elect a carbon sequestration program and cover crop strategy that best suits their needs and capabilities, the Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership (ISAP) has published its first-ever Cover Crop Incentive Directory (CCID).
ISAP’s free, on-demand directory aims to provide a clear comparison of several programs that offer payment incentives to Illinois farmers for growing cover crops. It includes information on 15 incentive opportunities, including publicly funded programs at the federal, state, and county levels. Privately funded programs throughout Illinois are also detailed. The directory includes a brief description, relevant geography, contract length, payment details, and contact information for each program.
This will allow farmers and landowners to be able to compare programs and select the option that is best for them, according to Jean Brokish, Midwest deputy director for American Farmland Trust (AFT), a founding member of ISAP.
“The CCID is designed with both farmers and farm advisors in mind who might be thinking of installing cover crops on their farms in order to take advantage of the financial incentives. They can use this as a tool to evaluate the various incentives, and then pick out a program that fits their plans,” said Brokish. “From our perspective, it’s for those farmers who are on the fence about cover crops. This directory can serve as a roadmap and provide support for the farmer.”
The CCID can also be utilized by farm advisors when assisting farmers in selecting a cover crop program that can return financial incentives, including programs offered by the federal government and through public-private partnerships.
“There are tables (in the CCID) with different rows that provide a basic description of different programs. Some of those programs you might be familiar with like EQIP and CSP, and others are cost-share programs available through the farm bill,” Brokish said. “It also details programs that are available only in certain parts of the state of Illinois, targeting specific watersheds or counties, along with funding sources.”
Contract and payment terms are also compared and contrasted within the three-page directory.
In addition, the directory includes a “stacking matrix’’ to help farmers understand which programs can be combined to receive multiple incentives. Because many programs offer exceptions or exclusions for stacking, the stacking matrix serves to provide a program-by-program guide to stacking opportunities.
“We’ve also added some context on deadlines to sign up and on how to sign up for programs-- all that information is stacked up side-by-side,” Brokish said, before adding that the directory is not intended to represent a complete listing of all cover crop-related carbon sequestration programs and markets available to farmers and landowners.
“Specifically what is not included here are some of the carbon markets,” she said, “but we felt that we had compiled a nice beginning directory of programs currently available to farmers with relatively low entry points, meaning low entry thresholds. Most people can go to websites associated with these programs and understand how these work, fill out some paperwork, and be on their way.”
As attention to cover crops continues to increase thanks in part to the burgeoning carbon capture market, Brokish said the time was right to develop the CCID as an important resource for farmers. “There are a lot of incentives available for farmers, and a lot more attention on the value of cover crops. The potential confusion is really accelerating, and we just wanted to help by developing a tool that could help farmers evaluate all the options that are available to them,” she said.
The Cover Crop Incentive Directory and Stacking Matrix is available to view on ISAP’s website, www.illinoissustainableag.org.