KRIS REYNOLDS: Cover crops deliver big bang for the buck

There are climate benefits as well. Planting cover crops, along with other conservation agriculture practices, has the potential to reduce emissions and sequester millions of metric tons of harmful greenhouse gases in soils. These practices can dramatically cut the agricultural sector’s greenhouse gas footprint.

But as of 2019, cover crops were grown on less than 6% of Illinois cropland.

So why don’t more farmers do it? Farming is a business with a lot of overhead and small margins. It’s risky to change the way you operate, and it takes a few years to see the payoff. Farmers think of cover crops just like any other farm input. At the end of the day, I make management decisions to improve the profitability of my farming operation. If I don’t, there won’t be any sixth- or seventh-generation Reynolds farming in Montgomery County.

That’s why the Illinois Department of Agriculture launched the Fall Covers for Spring Savings Cover Crop Premium Discount Program in 2019. The idea was simple: Offer a $5 crop insurance discount for every acre planted in cover crops.

It’s working. The Illinois farmland using cover crops has doubled since 2018, to around 1.4 million acres. Now the problem is that we can’t keep up. We are turning away almost four times the number of acres as the program has capacity to enroll.

If we want to meet the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy’s water quality and soil health goals, now is the time to scale up the Fall Covers program. As lawmakers sit down to make budget decisions over the next few weeks, they should consider increasing the Fall Covers for Spring Savings program to be available for at least 200,000 acres in Illinois.

Columns,Region: Bloomington,City: Bloomington,Opinion,Region: Central

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May 18, 2021 at 05:49AM

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