The Illinois Department of Agriculture will adopt and implement a crop insurance reward program for cover crops that American Farmland Trust and a coalition of agriculture, environmental and conservation organizations developed. The program, “Fall Covers for Spring Savings: Crop Insurance Reward Pilot Program,” will help farmers meet the goals of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy by reducing nitrate and phosphorous from non-point sources.

The budget includes $300,000 to fund the new pilot program. Farmers using cover crops will be eligible for a $5/acre reward on their crop insurance. The program is meant to test whether a small crop insurance reward applied to fields planted in cover crops would incentivize more use of the practice across Illinois. 

The adoption of the program marks the first time new funding has been approved for the NLRS since it was adopted in 2015. Cover crops are key practice identified in the NLRS to reducing nitrate and phosphorous loss from non-point sources.

“Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that provides protection for farmers when adverse weather impacts their crop yields,” said Kris Reynolds, AFT Midwest deputy director. “Because of the diverse group of partners supporting this program, we were able to make it happen. Thank you, Illinois Department of Agriculture, for taking an interest in this program and approving it.”

A cover crop is a type of plant that is used in conservation and crop-production practices that reduces nutrient leaching, soil loss and runoff, while also improving soil health. Over time these improvements increase nutrient efficiency and crop yields, reduce sediment and nutrient losses, and make farms more resilient to extreme weather conditions. A similar pilot program in Iowa, started in 2018, has received applications for more than 170,000 additional cover crop acres.

“After two years of working collaboratively statewide, I am ecstatic that a crop insurance program with such potential is included in the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s budget,” remarked Jennifer Filipiak, Midwest Regional Director for AFT. “When we had that first meeting to talk about replicating the Iowa program here, we knew the biggest obstacle would be to find the funding. I’m so excited that the state of Illinois has taken such a significant step to promote this well-tested conservation practice.”