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Ag Group: WI Needs Incentive Program for Cover Crops


As Wisconsin farmers fan out for the spring planting season, conservation-minded groups say the state should do more to convince producers to plant cover crops. They are hoping a proposed incentive program clears the Legislature.

Cover crops, a well-known conservation strategy, are known to improve soil health while reducing harmful runoff.

Margaret Krome, policy program director for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, said despite the awareness, they need more farmers to sign on to have a sizable impact. The program would discount producers' crop insurance premiums if they took on this practice.

She pointed to polling data as a need to approve the program.

"Approximately two-thirds, either those who had already planted cover crops in the past or those who had not, said this kind of program would incentivize them to plant cover crops, or plant more."

Similar programs in Iowa and Illinois have seen strong enrollment numbers.

Supporters in Wisconsin asked the Legislature to approve a $500,000 in annual funding. The plan had bipartisan support and saw movement last year before the pandemic brought the session to a halt. However, it had less funding than what advocates want.

Bob Roden, a farmer in West Bend, has been experimenting with cover crops in recent years. He said other producers are watching to see if it's worth it, and he feels any extra reason to dive in or keep going is worthwhile.

"Any incentive, we're interested in doing it to promote better soil health," Roden confirmed. "It's an incentive just like our different programs out there to encourage us to start these cover-crop programs."

While there are existing incentive programs through agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Roden noted there are still costs to consider when adopting these practices.

Krome argued the annual investment for the state is worth it because convincing more farmers to improve their soil health could help with flood prevention.

"If you invest the money in the kind of farming practices that hold water, rather than allow water to come tearing across the landscape and going down the hill and tearing out roads and bridges, you can reduce the cost the government pays in repairing that infrastructure," Krome contended.

While the Institute's polling data suggests strong demand, the latest Census of Agriculture shows only 6% of Wisconsin's acreage was planted with cover crops.