If you protect your farm’s soils by no-tilling and using cover crops, but your neighbor made tillage passes at every opportunity, should you both have the same right to federal crop insurance when things go badly?
That all depends on what happens in Washington this summer.
The U.S. House and Senate ag committees passed their own versions of the Farm Bill that authorize spending for farm and nutritional programs through 2017. The current bill expires Sept. 30.
The Senate version has one big difference. To be eligible for “Ag Risk Coverage” — which complements crop insurance to protect against price and yield losses — farmers must comply with conservation and wetland protections. The House version has no such rule, but it may be added.
Do you think this is fair? Many farmers do, it appears. A bi-partisan poll of 502 American farmers in 13 Midwestern and Plains states, released July 11 by American Farmland Trust, shows 61% agree with linking federal subsidies, including crop insurance, to environmental standards.
I wonder if such a requirement would convince a few more farmers to give no-till a try or be more loyal to it. And would the impacts of this year’s drought be less widespread if more acres had been no-tilled or even strip-tilled?
This might have been true in Illinois. University of Illinois crop specialist Fabian Fernandez recently shared some lessons learned from this year’s catastrophe. He says some farmers let weeds get too big, robbing fields of critical moisture.
“Similarly, too much tillage has, in some situations, caused unnecessary water evaporation from the soil,” he adds, “and those fields are running out of water sooner than fields that were managed more carefully.”
One thing is certain: It will be interesting to see the impact of the final Farm Bill and this year’s drought on conservation-cropping systems in 2013 and beyond.