A new Iowa pilot program is offering farmers a $5 per acre crop insurance premium discount to plant cover crops.

Farmers who plant cover crops this fall may be eligible for a $5 per acre premium reduction on their crop insurance in 2018, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. IDALS worked with the USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA), who oversees the federal crop insurance program, to establish the three-year demonstration project aimed at expanding the usage of cover crops and protecting water quality.

Scientists say rye cover crops may reduce average nitrate losses by 31 percent and an oat cover crop an average of 28 percent. Planting a late summer or early fall seeded cover crop can reduce phosphorus loss an average of 29 percent.

The new crop insurance premium reduction is a great way to reach a broader group of farmers to promote continued interest in planting cover crops, says Mike Naig, Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. “This streamlined incentive coupled with traditional state and federal cost share programs provides farmers and landowners with a variety of options to gain experience with cover crops and expand their use."

The state cost-share rate for planting cover crops is $25 per acre for first-time users ($15 per acre for past cover crop users). The new Iowa pilot crop insurance incentive is designed to transition past cost-share users to a new, longer-term incentive opportunity, to provide an incentive to those that don't use cost-share programs, and also increase the opportunities for new users of the traditional cost-share offerings.

Cover crop seeding dates have recently been extended, so there is still an opportunity to seed more acres this fall, Naig says, further encouraging continued seeding winter hardy cover crops as harvest wraps-up to provide winter and spring protection from weather.

Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that helps farmers manage the risks associated with growing a crop and provides protection for farmers impacted by severe weather and challenging growing seasons. Cover crops can help prevent erosion and improve water quality and soil health, among other benefits.

“Crop insurance is critical to the health of the rural economy, and proper use of cover crops is critical to the health of the soil that farmers need,” says RMA Acting Administrator Heather Manzano.

The new premium reduction will only be available for fall-planted cover crops with a spring-planted cash crop. Some policies may be excluded, such as Whole-Farm Revenue Protection or those covered through written agreements. Participants must follow all existing good farming practices required by their policy and work with their insurance agent to maintain eligibility.

IDALS has established a webpage for more details, including frequently asked questions, program rules and a sign-up application. Applications will be accepted through January 15, 2018.