SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A pilot program that offers discounted crop insurance premiums for farmers planting cover crops begins this year.

The Fall Covers for Spring Savings: Crop Insurance Reward Pilot Program approved by the Illinois General Assembly includes $300,000 to the state Department of Agriculture.

The program provides a $5 per acre crop insurance reward for those eligible for the program and is for cover crops planted after harvest this year.

IDOA is working on the specifics of the program and Kris Reynolds, American Farmland Trust Midwest deputy director, and one of 15 members of the new program’s steering committee team, provided information at the recent Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts annual conference.

AISWCD also awarded Reynolds at the conference with the 2019 Friend of Conservation for his work championing the cover crop insurance pilot program.

Links To NLRS

“This is fairly significant because this was the first time since 2015 when the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy came out that any new funding was allocated,” Reynolds said.

The proposal is to have 50,000 acres enrolled in the first year, 100,000 acres the second year and 200,000 acres the third year. Funding was only approved for the first year.

“So, we’ll go back next year, helpfully showing the program was successful, and ask for increased in funding to get us up to the 100,000-acre level,” Reynolds said.

“Our best estimate is somewhere around 3% of the cropland in Illinois has cover crops on it on an annual basis. That’s somewhere around 750,000 to one million acres. We need a lot more than that in order to reach the goals of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.”

Iowa is in the second year of funding for a similar program and had 200,000 acres enrolled in its first year.

“Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio are also looking at this program for 2021. So, we could have several states that are implementing this program throughout the Midwest on a lot of acres, and we hope to learn what the benefits are over the next couple of years, what the benefits are not only to the farmers, but also to the taxpayers who are helping fund this program,” Reynolds said.

“One of the reasons the Department of Agriculture liked this program is because it is very simple. It’s not giving out hundreds of checks to farmers throughout Illinois, but it’s writing one check to the Risk Management Agency at the end of the year. So, it’s a very simple program and we hope will be very simple to enroll in.

“We’re really excited to be able to analyze the data over the next couple of years and figure out is this helping the crop insurance program, but also creates more synergy between the two programs.

“Currently there’s not a lot of crossover between crop insurance and conservation as we start thinking about what practices we can utilize on farms and how that can ultimately improve our crop insurance.”

Application Process

The proposed steps in the application process are:

Step 1 — Farmers certify cover crop acres with Farm Service Agency office by Dec. 15. Farmer receives FSA 578 form along with maps and uses these to apply for discount.

Step 2 — Farmers apply for crop insurance by Jan. 15 to IDOA. They submit maps, form 578 and a one page application form.

Step 3 — IDOA/SWCDs verify eligibility (fields are 50% within a targeted watershed, not enrolled in other federal or state programs), notify successful applicants and report acreage to Risk Management Agency.

Step 4 — SWCDs do spot checks for verification in February.

Step 5 — RMA works with approved insurance providers to apply reward to crop insurance invoices.

The goals of the program include:

  • Uses cover crops as a risk management tool.
  • Lists the reward on every crop insurance bill so farmers will recognize there is a tie between crop insurance and cover crops in looking at it from a risk reduction standpoint.
  • More cover crop acres on Illinois farmland.
  • Helps meet the goals of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.
  • Considered as a pilot program for the next farm bill.

“If we could get that on everyone’s crop insurance bill there would be more people thinking about cover crops as that risk reduction tool,” Reynolds said.

The new program is a culmination of work that a group of Illinois organizations began in 2017 that looked at what was being done in Iowa with a crop insurance reward program for cover crops.

Organizations involved included AISWCD, AFT, Illinois Corn Growers Association, IDOA, Natural Resources Defense Council, Illinois Environmental Council, Izaak Walton League, The Nature Conservancy, RMA, University of Illinois and Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

“We put together a very diverse group of organizations that included conservation organizations, agriculture organizations, commodity groups and also environmental organizations that all came together for one purpose and that was to try to get a program funded here in Illinois,” Reynolds said.

Tom C. Doran can be reached at 815-780-7894 or tdoran@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow him on Twitter at: @AgNews_Doran.

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