Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan unveiled a bill to make crop insurance available at lower cost to beginning farmers, and to make it easier for diversified farmers to get insurance. Less than 50 percent of small farmers, including organic, livestock, fruit and vegetable, and direct-to-consumer operations, have crop insurance, says a small-farm advocacy group.
A simulation by Texas A&M scientists indicates that winter wheat is a feasible cover crop for cotton growers in the arid Plains, says one of the researchers.
At the University of Nebraska, researchers are experimenting with the agricultural landscape to see if modifications such as windbreaks or cover crops will limit pesticide drift and help bees avoid harmful exposure to the chemicals. Farmers generally plant corn and soybean seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides, which can be rubbed off of the seed during planting and land on plants visited by foraging bees, says Harvest Public Media.
Iowa, which has been embroiled in controversies over agricultural runoff and water-quality issues, has announced a novel program to give farmers who plant cover crops a $5-per-acre discount on their crop insurance over the next three years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Farmers taking part in a survey about cover crops reported a nearly 3-percent increase in wheat yields when cover crops are used in the offseason, says the Conservation Technology Information Center. This was the first time the survey compiled enough responses to calculate the impact on wheat; past surveys associated cover crops with higher corn and soybean yields.
Cover crops are a well-known way to reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion when farmland is idle outside of the growing season but few corn and soybean farmers plant them, says the Environmental Working Group. In a report, EWG suggested "shifting a small allocation" of money from crop subsidies and crop insurance to pay for a dramatic boost in the cost-share funds that help farmers get started with the practice.
The policies of the "Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, a taxpayer-funded insurance program managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) and administered by a network of private companies,” punish farmers for environmentally-friendly practices, like planting cover crops, says Kristin Ohlson in FERN’s latest story, which was produced with Ensia.
A variety of USDA programs will be tapped to provide $328 million in technical and financial assistance to improve water quality and restore coastal ecosystems over three years on agricultural land in the Gulf of Mexico area, said USDA. The strategy calls for conservation improvements on 3.2 million acres of high-priority land in 200 counties and parishes.
Farmers in Ohio can get up to $2 million in cost-share money to reduce run-off into Lake Erie, said USDA, acting only weeks after algae blooms in the lake disrupted the water supply for Toledo.