COMIC: The dirt on cover crops!
Cover crops are what farmers plant during their growing off-season to help prepare and protect the soil for their cash crop. Cover crops can offer many benefits for a farmer’s soil such as: obstructing erosion, supporting the physical and biological properties of soil, providing nutrients, reducing weeds, enhancing soil water and helping protect soil against pests. Some cover crops can even help break up compacted soil layers, allowing the cash crops the ability to develop even fuller and stronger roots. They are also better for the environment than many common chemical fertilizers.
However, despite the multiple benefits cover crops offer, adoption rates are low among U.S. farmers. Only about 7% of U.S. farmland utilizes cover crops. Cover crops can be expensive to grow, especially in areas where the weather is less hospitable during the winter. To combat these barriers, the National Resources Defense Council is helping to create incentives for farmers to use cover crops through the largest federal farm subsidy: crop insurance. NRDC has worked with states like Iowa and Illinois to design programs that give farmers who use cover crops $5 per acre off their insurance bill. Some state agencies also offer farmers incentives for the use of cover crops, often through local soil and water conservation districts. Thousands of farmers have recently received payments in support of cover crops through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Payment (EQIP) program. It varies from state to state what programs are available to farmers.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture no longer offers assistance through the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which provided assistance for cover crops. Davin Althoff, the division director of agriculture business development, said that while it was an excellent program it was outside of the department’s wheelhouse. Most specialists within the division are marketing specialists, not soil conservationists, “It’s just not within our expertise.” The RCPP conservation programs are available through USDA NRCS.
Althoff is a farmer himself and thinks it’s a wonderful program. He uses cover crops on his own farm, “It improves soil profile, certainly benefits from a potential yield boost… And instead of terminating the cover crop with a chemical, I’m harvesting the forage in the spring.”
Check out the comic for the science behind how cover crops help the soil!