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National Cover Crop Survey Finds Incentive Payments Not Key to Continue Practice

A new national cover crop survey finds most producers questioned would continue cover cropping even after incentive payments end, but survey authors say that’s not a reason for savings.

More than 90 percent of the 800 farmers that USDA, conservation, and seed trade groups surveyed said they’d definitely or probably continue planting cover crops after incentive payments ended.

Rob Myers with the Sustainable Ag Research and Education program at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture was the lead researcher on the 2022-2023 report. “When 90 percent are saying they’re going to continue and only three percent are saying they’re going to stop, that’s a pretty strong indication that the incentive is not an issue,” Myers says.

So, are incentives necessary?

Myers says, “To get producers into cover cropping, I think incentives do play a really important role, and they help cover that transition period of the first two or three years, where most farmers, let’s face it, are going to have a slight reduction in their net profit because of the cost of that cover crop seed.”

After which, yields pick up and farmers may turn a profit. But with just a fraction of some 200 million acres of Midwest corn and soybeans cover-cropped, Myers doesn’t see savings for other farm bill supports. “Yeah, there are other needs for farm payments, but the fact that a given field may only need three years of payments, there are a lot of additional fields that we want to help farmers carry that cost of transitioning,” according to Myers.

Andy LaVigne, head of the American Seed Trade Association, says “We understand that we’re going to have limited resources, but conservation, sustainability, those programs are always going to be a strong part of the farm bill, and I don’t think a reallocation of resources from that to something else is a strong way to go.”

But some lawmakers are already targeting cover-cropped CRP acres for savings amid an extremely tight farm bill budget.

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