Landowners could receive payments of $25 per acre on up to 1,000 acres if cover crops are established in their fields for the purposes of soil health, according to a preliminary Senate draft of the Build Back Better bill and corresponding budget. Non-operating landowners could receive payments of $5 per acre for encouraging tenants to seed covers on rented fields. Up to $5 billion will be available to growers.

This is good news for the 82% of no-tillers who use cover crops, as reported in the No-Till Farmer 2021 No-Till Benchmark Study. Cover crops are only grown on 5% of U.S. cropland, according to a USDA report from earlier this year.

These financial incentives will be welcome news to the 40% of growers who are new to using covers, as reported in the Cover Crop Strategies 2nd annual Cover Crop Benchmark Study.

Largest Federal Investment in Land Stewardship Since the 1930s

Twenty-eight billion has been provided by the USDA for conservation agriculture and climate-smart programs and practices, the largest federal investment in land stewardship since the Dust Bowl, according to Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. Unofficial descriptions of the package were circulating to legislators yesterday.

The $28 billion will need to be approved by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO estimated that USDA conservation programs will cost $65 billion in the next 10 years, doubling the funding that was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. The $28 billion package included $9 billion earmarked for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and $4 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program.

As part of the $28 billion package, $7.5 billion was set aside for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program through the USDA. Yesterday, USDA announced the state-based projects that will receive funding. The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) received $7.5 million for a project to secure farmers access to low carbon fuel standard markets based on their adoption of climate-smart ag practices that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve soil health.

ACE will partner with the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, Dakota Ethanol, South Dakota State University (SDSU), Cultivating Conservation and Sandia National Labs to compensate farmers for adopting these practices. The partnership will quantify the resulting soil health and GHG benefits, correlate them to existing models, and develop a non-proprietary verification system.

According to Michigan State University’s GHG calculator that uses USDA data to compare GHG reductions from different cropping systems, incentivizing farmers to change from conventional tillage to no-till would sequester an additional 91,000 metric tons of GHG emissions per year in South Dakota — the equivalent of removing 20,000 cars from the road.

SDSU will collaborate with the Sandia National Laboratory to quantify GHG contributions made by the farmers who participate in this program and will also lead the effort to establish a non-proprietary verification system.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Land and Water Resources received funds to establish a Climate-Smart Agricultural Champions program for Illinois producers that will incentivize climate-smart conservation practices and systems with GHG and water quality benefits. The project will also create an Agricultural Climate-Smart Institute to establish educational and training programs for climate-smart systems and practices.

The Saginaw Bay Watershed Asset Program in Michigan will partner with The Nature Conservancy to increase the permanent adoption of strip-till [SH1] and cover crops in the Saginaw Bay watershed. The program will offer incentives to producers to support transitioning to a strip-till system. Partners aim to achieve a 2,000-ton sediment reduction and a 9,000-pound phosphorus reduction.

The Illinois Soybean Association will receive funding to replicate and scale up an existing pay-for-performance model to improve water quality and reduce GHG in targeted watersheds. Farmers will be implementing conservation practices on 14,000 acres of cropland.

The House Agriculture Committee also held a hearing yesterday addressing “Voluntary Carbon Markets in Agriculture and Forestry”, building on the directive from the 2008 Farm Bill for the USDA to establish guidelines to quantify and communicate the value of conservation practices like cover crops.