Iowa farmers who plant cover crops this fall may be eligible for a $5 per acre discount on their crop insurance premiums for the 2020 crop year, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) announced last week.

The discounts on crop insurance are part of three-year de­­monstration program led by IDALS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) to increase acres of cover crops in Iowa.

“Cover crops are proven to reduce nutrient loads and improve soil health,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “As part of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, our goal is to have at least 14 million acres of cover crops planted in the state of Iowa. This program represents just one of many funding sources available to help farmers add conservation practices to their fields.”

During its first two years, more than 1,200 farmers have applied for the cover crop/crop insurance discount program and planted 300,000 acres of cover crops, IDALS said.

Planting rye or oat cover crops in the fall has shown to improve soil health and help prevent erosion, especially during high-intensity rainfalls. Research by Iowa State University has also shown that cover crops reduce nitrogen loads by 28% to 31% and phosphorous loads by 29%, which helps improve water quality.
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, along with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), recently recognized Iowa’s cover crop program, calling it an innovative way to help finance on-farm conservation practices.

The Iowa pilot program linking crop insurance with cover crops is gaining a lot of attention from other states, including from neighboring Illinois, Naig said. “We think it further underscores how much of a connection there is between risk management and conservation,” he said.

To qualify for the IDALS crop insurance discounts, a farmer’s cover crop acres cannot be enrolled in other state or federal cover crop cost-share programs. However, farmers who were unable to plant a cash crop in 2019 because of wet fields and utilized a cover crop to protect fields in 2019 are still eligible for the discounted insurance premiums.

Farmers can apply for the program at through Jan. 15, 2020.

Some crop insurance policies may be excluded, like Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, or those covered through written agreements. Participants must follow all existing farming practices required by their policy and work with their insurance agency to maintain eligibility.

IDALS also encourages farmers to visit their local USDA service center offices to learn more about other cost-share funding available to support the implementation of conservation practices.