Cover crops are more popular than previously known, according to a USDA survey. Growers reported using cover crops on 40 percent of their cropland in 2021, suggesting a sizable increase from the 15.4 million acres of cover crops listed in the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
Rain, snow and sleet increased in almost all midwestern counties between 2001 and 2020. Along with that additional precipitation came increased federal crop insurance payments to farmers whose crops failed due to “excess moisture,” said a report Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group.
America's biggest farmers are unchanging skeptics of climate change but they slowly are adopting cover crops, mostly to improve crop yields and soil health, said Purdue University on Tuesday. Only one in 20 growers say they planted the soil- and water-holding crops for carbon sequestration.
Anne Schwagerl would love to purchase an interseeder, a machine that plants cover crop seeds directly into a field where another crop like soybeans is already growing. But she and her husband, who grow a variety of grains on 400 acres in western Minnesota, can't afford the $80,000 price tag. So she was happy when the state legislature recently approved a cost-share program to help farmers to purchase such equipment.
Farm-state lawmakers would have the funds to write a climate-focused farm bill if Congress enacts a broad-ranging package that President Biden on Thursday called “the most significant legislation in history to tackle the climate crisis.” The package includes $20 billion for voluntary conservation practices on the farm to sequester greenhouse gases in soils, plants, and trees.
Cover crops can help farmers build healthier soil, but they may not work well on fields where farmers have continuously grown corn for decades and applied large amounts of nitrogen fertilizers, according to two new studies. “In the Midwest, our soils are healthy and resilient, but we shouldn’t overestimate them. A soil under unsustainable practices for too long might reach an irreversible threshold,” said Nakian Kim, a doctoral graduate student in the University of Illinois’s Department of Crop Sciences who led the studies.
In the debate over how to use agricultural lands to sequester carbon and help mitigate climate change, no-till and cover cropping get most of the attention. But studies are starting to show that grazed perennial pastures, where the soil is rarely disturbed and continuously covered, may be the best strategy for locking carbon in the soil long-term, according to experts on a recent Environmental Working Group webinar.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced $2.6 million in grants on Wednesday to help farmers plant cover crops across 500,000 acres in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, and Minnesota.
Over a 10-year period, conservation tillage became the most popular tillage practice on U.S. cropland, said a USDA agency on Thursday. The Natural Resources Conservation Service said the practice, which leaves crop residue on at least 30 percent of the soil surface to reduce erosion, had been adopted on 53.4 million acres by the mid-2010s.
In a new report, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation calls on farms in the bay’s watershed to “urgently accelerate and scale up” their conservation efforts, not only to reduce water-borne pollution — a federal mandate — but to slash their greenhouse gas emissions and stoke local economies.
For the second year in a row, farmers who plant cover crops are eligible for a premium benefit of $5 an acre on most crop insurance policies, said the USDA’s Risk Management Agency on Thursday.
Only 5 percent of U.S. cropland is planted to cover crops amid debate over their financial benefits to farmers. Congress may need to offer a "sizable" subsidy to growers if it wants large-scale adoption of the farming practice, said two university economists.
Four months after it announced a temporary rule change, the USDA said on Wednesday that it would alter crop insurance rules permanently so farmers can hay, graze, or chop cover crops at any time and still be eligible for a full prevented planting payment.
The farm sector would gain $27 billion for climate mitigation, including payments for planting cover crops, from the social welfare and climate change bill passed by the House, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Agriculture can lead the way in the fight on climate with climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices that sequester carbon, reduce emissions and create new and better market opportunities for producers."
House Democrats, acting in concert with President Biden, proposed a $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate change bill on Thursday that would combat global warming by paying farmers up to $25 an acre to grow cover crops on their land during fallow seasons. The bill also would help low-income families buy food for their children during the summer and make nearly 9 million students in high-poverty areas eligible for free school meals.
While Democratic leaders in Congress are trying to scale down the cost of President Biden's social welfare and climate change bill, it is important to make "bold investments ... that expand climate-smart agriculture practices," said two House Democrats. The members of the House Agriculture Committee said the money should be funneled through voluntary programs already offered by the USDA.
Slightly more than half of the country's biggest farmers say they planted cover crops this year, indicating a broadening acceptance of the crops' benefits for soil health and the accompanying complication they bring to land management, said Purdue's Ag Economy Barometer on Tuesday. Cover crops received prominent attention this year as a potential way to earn money from a carbon contract while mitigating climate change on the farm.
Farmers and landowners would share a combined $5 billion in payments for planting cover crops to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff under a proposal written by farm state Democrats in the Senate and House. The package would also boost spending on a handful of existing stewardship programs for total outlays of $28 billion.