(Washington, D.C. – July 27, 2022) Today, Representative Casten (D-IL) introduced the Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience (COVER) Program Act with co-sponsor Representative Axne (D-IA). The bill would codify a Good Steward Cover Crop program, which will mirror the Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP) and provide a $5 per acre discount on crop insurance premiums for farmers who plant cover crops. In addition, this legislation would authorize a pilot program to determine additional actuarially sound discounts for producers who adopt soil health practices authorized by RMA, helping producers for whom cover crops are not an option. Leading advocacy groups, including American Farmland Trust and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), laud the bill as a necessary step forward in building farmer, soil, and food system resilience and reducing risk in the face of increasing extreme weather.
Crop insurance is a risk management tool that provides critical support to farmers across the country, many of whom have reported increased damage and claims from floods, drought, and other natural disasters. Cover crops enhance resilience to these events by reducing erosion and increasing soil organic matter and water infiltration while improving water quality and sequestering carbon. They also provide farmers economic benefits by saving them money on inputs, such as increasingly costly fertilizer and herbicides, and improving their yields over time.
“We applaud Representatives Casten and Axne for their leadership in introducing this bill. This legislation would build on the popular PCCP, which has helped thousands of farmers plant cover crops, a key conservation practice to improving on-farm resilience to, and incidentally also fighting, climate change,” said Samantha Levy, AFT’s Conservation and Climate Policy Manager. “We have seen this program work on the state level and now at the federal level because it is easy, and it makes sense to farmers.”
“Cover crops have the power to protect and regenerate America’s soil, one of our most precious resources,” notes Lara Bryant, Deputy Director of Water and Agriculture at NRDC and one of the leading backers of the COVER Act. “The COVER Act helps farmers access resources that will, ultimately, save them money, help increase produce yields, and better protect our planet. It’s high time we make cover crops a feasible, long-standing option for farmers.”
Utilizing a model first piloted in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana, savings for farmers planting cover crops for the past two years. In the 2021 crop year, farmers enrolled more than 12.2 million acres in the program, building on the hundreds of thousands of cover crop acres supported by preceding state programs. Wisconsin also recently passed legislation to establish its own cover crop assistance program.
Adopting these risk-managing conservation practices can reduce the cost of the crop insurance program—which, according to the Economic Research Service, is expected to grow by as much as 20-30 percent in the next century depending on how quickly practices to adapt to climate change are adopted. A 2021 study found that counties experiencing drought with higher soil organic matter saw higher yields and lower rates of crop insurance payouts, with a 1 percent increase in organic matter associated with 30-40 percent lower crop insurance payout rates on average. USDA’s Risk Management Agency recently identified expanding cover crops as one of its top priorities for protecting the crop insurance program and mitigating climate risks.
“Implementing new practices can be both challenging and risky,” said Levy. “Providing voluntary incentives to plant cover crops in this way helps farmers continue to improve the stewardship of their land. This leads to greater productivity and resiliency in their operation, and a reduction of risk—key goals of the crop insurance program.”