New Wisconsin cover crop bill helps farmers save money

This blog is co-authored by Margaret Krome, Director of Policy at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI), a southeastern Wisconsin nonprofit. The Institute strives to increase agricultural resilience through stakeholder-driven programming that addresses pressing economic, social and environmental issues.

Diverse mix of cover crops in a Wisconsin field

Today, Governor Evers signed into law a bill (AB 727) that improves water quality in Wisconsin and authorizes a program that provides Wisconsin farmers with $5 per acre savings on their crop insurance if they plant cover crops, a regenerative farming practice. This makes Wisconsin the fourth state to offer such a program after Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Cover crops in Wisconsin

Cover crops are a key practice for improving soil health in Wisconsin, and soil health can in turn improve water quality, improve habitat for increased biodiversity, help farmers grow adapt to climate change and sequester carbon to combat climate change. Wisconsin is one of the top 10 states to plant cover crops according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, yet only 6% of Wisconsin’s cropland uses cover crops. Crop insurance incentives like this program can be a way to get more farmers to plant cover crops in their fields.

Federal Crop Insurance Program

The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) is used by most staple crop farmers in the Midwest, and some lenders require farmers to have crop insurance to qualify for loans. A 2019 survey by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute found that two-thirds of farmers who had never planted cover crops would consider doing so with a crop insurance incentive program. Two-thirds of those who had planted cover crops would likely plant more.

Benefits of Cover Crops

From growers in Wisconsin’s Central Sands dealing with concerns about nitrates in drinking water to dairy and cattle ranchers across the state concerned about the erosion of their row crop fields, many Wisconsin farmers are benefiting from cover crops planted in a timely manner. Such crops can protect the soil for months of exposure to winter and spring rains. Cover crops can also interrupt the breeding cycles of weeds, insects and diseases and can make the soil more like a sponge – absorbing water during major rain events and making it available during drought conditions. ..

Looking forward

Now that the Wisconsin Legislature has passed and the Governor has signed it, MFAI and state stakeholders will be eager to work with state agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (DNR). ) to implement the program with the goal that farmers can take advantage of it in the fall.

With Wisconsin joining four other states in offering an incentive program, it makes sense for the USDA and Congress to create a national program, like the Pandemic Cover Crop program offered this year and last, so farmers in any State can benefit from a good stewardship discount. for soil health building practices.

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