This December a new premium discount program is available to farmers who plant cover crops ahead of a federally insured commodity crop and insured with approved insurance providers. The new state program called Fall Covers for Spring Savings is administered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois 97 Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The $5 premium discount is available on 50,000 acres of cover crops that were planted in the fall of 2019.

This program is a result of several diverse organizations partnering together to design a program that would be easy for farmers to enroll and encourage the adoption of cover crops on more acres. This past May, funding for the program was approved by the Illinois legislature as a new line item in the IDoA budget.

Why Cover Crops? In 2015, Illinois released the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) which identified cover crops as one of the in-field management practices that reduces nitrate and phosphorus losses on cropland. According to the recently released Illinois NLRS Biennial report, in 2018 we had 700,000 acres or just over 3 percent of our cropland acres protected with cover crops. In order to meet the goals of the strategy we will need many more. The funding for the program is the first time any new funding has been allocated for conservation practices that are listed in the NLRS since its adoption in 2015. Cover crops have the potential to reduce these losses by up to 50 percent depending on the species of cover crop that is used and when it is planted and terminated.

Cover crops not only help reduce nutrient loss, but they also can improve soil health and reduce risk of yield and profit losses associated with adverse weather conditions. The 2018 Farm Bill Good Farming Practice provisions now include cover crop management practices. This essentially means that cover crops are treated like other input decisions, such as fertilizer application, seeding and tillage practices.

Acres that have had cover crops planted on them in previous years and new acres of cover crops are eligible. Eligible acres cannot be currently enrolled in state and federal cover crop programs like CSP, EQIP, and the state Partners for Conservation program. Acres that have been previously enrolled in a program but are no longer receiving payments are eligible. Farmers and landowners who take approved crop insurance and share in the production of the crop are also eligible.

Applications for the program are available on the IDoA website until Jan. 15. Any time after planting cover crops this fall, farmers can report and certify their cover crop acres with their local Farm Service Agency office and receive a 578 report that will help complete the Fall Covers for Spring Savings application. Applications will then be approved on a first-come basis. Acres that are approved will receive the $5 per acre discount on their 2020 crop insurance premium bill.

When managed properly, cover crops can help improve water quality, reduce nutrient loss, improve soil health and reduce risk. The Fall Covers for Spring Savings program offers farmers a way to receive a discount on their crop insurance bill for new and old acres of cover crops.

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About the Author: Kris Reynolds

Reynolds joined American Farmland Trust (AFT) in January 2017 as the natural resource conservationist. He is responsible for working with the many partners in the Upper Macoupin Creek and Vermillion Headwaters watersheds. Reynolds coordinates activities with farmers and landowners that improve water quality and soil health, enhance nutrient efficiency, utilize conservation cropping systems and meet the goals of Illinois’ Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS).