Ensure Clean Water and Resilient Communities Through Cover Crops

Pollution in rivers, streams, and lakes costs Americans billions of dollars and threatens the resiliency of our communities. However, pollution in local waterways can be drastically reduced by farmers planting cover crops in the off-season. This increases climate change resilience and reduces severe damage from natural disasters while also improving farmers’ bottom lines. This policy incentivizes planting cover crops by offering farmers a per acre refund on their crop insurance premium for planting cover crops, helping to improve water quality and soil health, and reduce contamination in local rivers, streams and lakes.

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Frequently Asked Questions
Who does this help?
This policy benefits everyone by preventing excessive soil erosion, which improves water quality and soil health; reducing infrastructure costs and contamination of local waterways; and increasing overall climate change resilience. This policy also particularly benefits farmers by providing an incentive to adopt cover crops, which can increase crop yields and productivity by improving soil health, reducing overall costs and future risk of weather extremes, particularly in drought years, and improving farmers’ overall bottom lines.
Is this high cost for the state?
No. Investments in cover crop incentive programs will more than pay for themselves by improving soil health, increasing crop productivity and land value, decreasing infrastructure costs caused by sediment loads to waterways and flood risk, and mitigating environmental damage to local waterways, which costs the U.S. approximately $37 billion annually.
Partners
  • Farmers
  • Environmental advocates
  • Clean water advocates
  • Public health advocates
Opposition
  • None noted
Model Policy
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SECTION 1 (TITLE):
This act shall be known as the [STATE] Cover Crop Discount Act
SECTION 2 (PURPOSE):
The Cover Crop Discount Act incentivizes cover crop adoption by offering farmers a per acre refund on their crop insurance premium for planting cover crops, helping to prevent soil erosion, improve water quality and soil health, and reduce contamination in local waterways.
SECTION 3 (PROVISIONS):

1. The legislature finds that the use of cover crops improves soil health, increases agricultural productivity, prevents soil erosion, improves water quality and soil health, and reduces contamination in local waterways.

2. The legislature further finds that it is in the interest of the State to incentivize the use of management practices that enhance the quality and sustainability of [STATE] agricultural lands.

3. Accordingly,

a. The [DEPARTMENT] shall establish and implement a cover crop insurance premium incentive program to provide [$5] per acre insurance premium discount on the following year’s crop insurance invoice for every acre of cover crop enrolled and verified in the program.

b. In providing crop insurance premium discounts under this section, [DEPARTMENT] may cooperate with the USDA USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and with any related federal agency, state agency, or agricultural organization. DEPARTMENT shall seek funding for such cover crop insurance premium incentive program through application for any available federal or private funds, and shall request annual appropriations as needed and use any appropriated funds to support the program.

c. Applications for crop insurance discounts shall be submitted on a form furnished by the [DEPARTMENT] and shall be accompanied by document verification, pursuant to subsection (1); provided that:

i. The applicant shall indemnify and hold harmless the State and its officers, agents, and employees from all claims arising out of or resulting from the planting of cover crops; and

ii. The [DEPARTMENT] may request that an applicant provide additional information for the purposes of verifying cover crop acres, including:

1. FSA 578 with verified cover crop acres;

2. Crop insurance policy number(s);

3. Acres of cover crops seeded to each field, farm, tract, common land unit (CLU)/Field #; and

4. Legal description of fields/acres seeded to cover crops

iii. The documentation shall include a certification that the cover crop acres are not already covered by other governmental cover crop incentive programs, including the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service’s environmental quality incentives program or the conservation stewardship program.

d. Applications for the premium discount under the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program shall be filed the fiscal year immediately preceding the filing and be effective for costs of purchasing crop insurance incurred after [DATE].

e. Each applicant and/or registered farm may only apply for the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program for a maximum of three consecutive years, after which such applicant will be ineligible for participation in the program.

f. Upon approval, funds shall be disbursed upon approval on an annual basis by the [DEPARTMENT] to the farmer or rancher until the annual funds available to DEPARTMENT for the program are exhausted. When disbursing funds, DEPARTMENT shall also direct farmers to available guidance and information on climate-smart agricultural practices, including conservation efforts, other regenerative farming practices such as conservation tillage, nutrient management, agroforestry, and other practices to reduce GHG emissions.

g. No full width tillage or termination of the cover crop in the fall is allowed.  Management and termination of the cover crops must be done in the spring in accordance with the most recent version of the USDA-NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines.

4.  REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

a. On or before reporting deadlines established by the DEPARTMENT, in each year in which an applicant of a farm participates in the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program, the participating farm shall submit a report to the DEPARTMENT that includes the information required by the DEPARTMENT, using a reporting template developed by the DEPARTMENT. DEPARTMENT shall make the reporting form and process as easy as possible for applicants. The report must include the following information, to the best of the applicant’s ability to provide such information:

i. The number of acres owned/run by the farm

ii. The number of acres of cover crops planted annually, which may include cover crops eligible for the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program and/or other local, state, federal, or private cover crop incentive programs

iii. Annual crop yields prior to participation in the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program

iv. Annual crop yields throughout the years in which the farm participates in the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program

v. Data from existing evaluations of soil health in

1. the year prior to participation in the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program and

2. year in which the farm participates in the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program

vi. Additional regenerative or climate-smart agricultural practices that the farm participates in, including conservation efforts, other regenerative farming practices such as conservation tillage, nutrient management, agroforestry, and other practices to reduce GHG emissions.

b. The DEPARTMENT shall publish a report biennially on climate resilience and mitigation progress made under the cover crop insurance premium incentive program and assessment of additional ways STATE can expand use of cover crops. The DEPARTMENT shall transmit such report to the Governor and Legislature as well as post it to the DEPARTMENT website.The report shall:

i. Detail the premium discounts awarded, the participating farmers, acres of cover crops for which a discount is provided, the duration of the program, and a summary of the information provided pursuant to subsection (1) of this section

ii. Detail any additional data collected from participants of the cover crop insurance premium incentive pilot program, including reporting on soil health, program impacts on annual crop yields, and farmers’ use of regenerative agricultural practices.