The Van Trump Report

New Incentive Payments to Help US Farmers Adopt More Cover Crops

Farmers in 20 US states that plant cover crops can now receive financial and technical assistance through a new “Farmers for Soil Health” program. The program, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, will pay transition incentives totaling $50 per new acre of cover crops over the course of three years. Signing incentives of $2 per acre are available for up to 600,000 acres of existing cover crops.

Crop fields in a corn and/or soybean rotation are eligible to receive Transition Incentive Payments (TIPs) or Signing Incentive Payments (SIPs) in exchange for planting cover crops and participating in the FSH Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) system. The FSH has set a goal to double US cover crop acres to 30 million by 2030 and they’ll use farmer information to demonstrate their progress.

SIPs are limited to crop fields where cover crops are already planted annually. TIP enrollment is open to any corn or soybean fields where cover crops are not currently part of an annual rotation. TIP enrollment is open both to farmers with some cover crops looking to expand and to farmers with no cover crops looking to start. The same farmer may receive SIPs for fields with existing cover crops and TIPs for fields new to cover crops.

Farmers can also stack the FSH TIPs with other Climate Smart Commodities project payments if they are paying for something other than the cover crop practice. Notably, they cannot be stacked with USDA NRCS cover crop cost share payments, such as through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP. However, FSH TIPs can be stacked with other state or private (non-federal) incentives and cost share opportunities.

Interestingly, the FSH cover crop program comes on the heels of the “2022-2023 National Cover Crop Survey“, which found that nearly half of cover crop users responding to the survey received some sort of payment for their efforts in 2022. Among non-cover crop users, almost 78% said that incentive payments would be helpful. Among 264 growers who had received payments, the percentage of their acreage enrolled in incentive programs ranged from 38% to 100%, with a median of 64%. Of those that received payments, 68% said they would definitely continue using them even after incentives end, while 23% indicated they “probably” would continue.

Soil is a key focus for nearly all of the cover crop users who participated in the survey: 95% selected “soil health” and 91% chose “add soil organic matter/sequester carbon” when asked to identify their cover cropping goals. Among 531 respondents that marked improved soil health as a goal, 93% strongly agreed (60%) or somewhat agreed (33%) that they had seen improvements toward that goal; 5.5% chose the neutral option and just 1.5% disagreed to some degree. Improving weed management (442 responses) also attained an overall positive score of 88%, with the positive answers equally split between strong and moderate agreement.

While healthier soils appear better able to store and release nutrients, the majority of survey respondents saw no change in fertilizer costs in fields where they had been continuously planted for three years. More than half (52%) of corn grower respondents and 60% of soybean growers reported no change in fertilizer costs. As for herbicides, again, a majority reported no change in herbicide costs but producers did report improved weed control (73% for corn and 75% for soybeans).

For those interested in adding or increasing covers in their rotations, you can learn more about the FSH cover crop cost-sharing program HERE.  Funding for the Farmers for Soil Health (FSH) initiative comes via a $95 million Climate Smart Commodities award from the USDA. The FSH itself is a collaboration between the National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Board and United Soybean Board, with a stated goal to advance conservation practices to improve soil health across the U.S. (Sources: SARE, USDA, FSH)

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