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Cover crop incentive programs available to help offset costs

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Farmers who would like to try cover crops, or those who are already using them, can receive payments to help offset their cost. ADM/Unilever's incentive program can be used on top of other incentives to add cover crops to farmers' rotation. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Carol Brown, ISA communications specialist

The costs associated with growing cover crops can cause hesitation for farmers, especially during a tough season. But there are some opportunities that can help offset those expenses.

Those who sell soybeans to the ADM supply chain are eligible to enroll in a cost-share program through the ADM/Unilever Sustainable Soy program. First-time cover crop growers will receive $40 per acre up to 40 acres to try cover crops on their farm. Those who have been using cover crops will receive $10 per acre up to 160 acres, or 10 percent of their acres farmed, whichever is larger.

Growers who sell their corn directly to Cargill in Eddyville are eligible for a similar cover crop cost-share program through PepsiCo.

 “Cover crops have a lengthy list of benefits that help improve soil health as well as water quality, which will benefit farmer profitability in the long run,” said Brett McArtor, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) regional agronomist. “By making a few management adjustments to incorporate cover crops into the crop rotation, farmers can see the soil health benefits within the first few years.”

Programs like ADM’s and PepsiCo’s can help ease the cost of uncertainty, said McArtor. “With farmer buy-in, as well as public and private funding becoming increasingly available, we can continue to move the needle in terms of soil and water quality.”

The ADM/Unilever payments can be stacked with other incentives offered through federal and state programs such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship also offers discounts on crop insurance premiums for those who use cover crops.

McArtor and other cover crop experts suggest farmers start small when beginning cover crop usage to make their management less intimidating. This is the reasoning behind the 40-acre cap for new users with this incentive program, McArtor said. As farmers get comfortable using cover crops in their farm management strategy, they can add cover crops to more acres.

The benefits of cover crop usage start to show around year two or three, when soil organic matter and nutrients increase, infiltration improves, and weeds are suppressed.

“In our on-farm studies and other research being done, with the right management strategy, we’re seeing all of these improvements without much or any yield drag,” said McArtor. “We are halfway through year three of our long-term cover crop studies and we are already seeing differences in soil compaction and density, as well as an uptick in water infiltration. These are all important factors when we consider the amount of rain we dealt with this past spring.”

Similar weather patterns are predicted for the next several years and managing for these rain events will become more important. Cover crops will have a big role to play, he said.

These programs are managed through Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and details are outlined on the PFI website. The webpage includes an enrollment form and a list the locations accepting soybeans into the ADM supply chain, which are located across Iowa.

Visit the ISA website for more information about ISA’s cover crop studies.

Contact Carol Brown at

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.

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