October 4, 2023

Farmers for Soil Health looks to enroll 1.3 million acres in as many as 20 states to provide cost-share payments to producers for planting cover crops. For producers who are new to cover crops, the program will provide $50 an acre spread over three years. The program will provide a smaller payment of $2 an acre for producers currently using cover crops. At least $25 million under the program will go toward technical assistance, working with agronomists and others to incentivize more cover-crop acreage.

West pointed out some programs may offer higher payments, but Farmers for Soil Health also plans to keep their enrollment and verification procedures as simple as possible to encourage farmers to join.

“We hope it is very much an entryway for farmers to get into cover crops,” he said.

Another aspect of Farmers for Soil Health will be to create a way producers can connect with companies that are either marketing private carbon programs or looking to buy commodities grown using climate-smart practices. They pointed to efforts such as those from the Michigan milling company Star of the West to buy “sustainably produced wheat” and market wheat products that have a lower carbon footprint.

Laurie Isley, who farms with her family near Palmyra, Michigan, and is a member of the United Soybean Board’s executive committee, said her family began looking at changes to their farming practices after seeing that chisel plowing essentially led to no structure in their soil.

“That was really a bit of an epiphany for us when we started to say what can we do differently that will help to protect our soil,” Isley said. “And certainly, in the last 10 years, as many of you know, we’ve learned so much more about soil, and that soil is a living organism and that we can, we can make it healthier. And so, I think part of the reason why this is called farmers for soil health is because what we’re really looking for is how can we create a healthier soil.”

Still, Isley also pointed out that cover crops have a learning curve and create some management challenges. She highlighted the dry spring as the annual rye grass was pulling water that might otherwise go to the cash crop.

“So, that was one of the issues that we were concerned with,” she said. “However, we’ve also seen, in some situations, if there’s a really heavy water event, that having both the improved soil structure from cover crops, as well as the cover crop itself really helps to get that water pulled away from the surface so that we were able to sometimes plant earlier than maybe some of our neighbors were that didn’t (use) cover crops. So, it’s got pros and cons. It’s not always going to make you an extra $20 an acre. That’s not the way that it works. Many of the benefits of cover crops are going to be long-term benefits in improved soil structure. And we’re going to see that, but sometimes those are difficult to measure.”

Beyond specific benefits to individual farmers, others on the tour spotlighted broader benefits. Tom Wall, director of watershed restoration at the Environmental Protection Agency, also spoke at CTIC’s lunch and pointed to USDA’s $19.5 billion in funds under the Inflation Reduction Act as a possible boon for addressing some water-quality issues in agriculture.

“There is a real opportunity for water-quality co-benefits here,” Wall said.

Ryan Heiniger, a wildlife biologist from eastern Iowa, came on as CTIC’s executive director last year. He said CTIC will also work on the Farmers for Soil Health initiative by providing technical assistance to producers in Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

“CTIC has some history of doing that (technical assistance), but we’re going to be onboarding three full-time staff members to work with farmers in those states,” Heiniger said.

While there have been issues with early adopters getting paid for their work, Heiniger said he believes one of the best ways for those producers to be rewarded is to “monetize their knowledge” of conservation practices. Heiniger said CTIC and others may look to recruit those producers to assist in educating others about no-till farming and cover crops.

Tied to some of the efforts launched by producer groups, USDA on Wednesday also announced plans to spend $300 million to improve measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration in climate-smart agriculture and forestry.

A pair of U.S. senators earlier this week also introduced a bill they hope to get into the farm bill that would essentially expand on the same kind of greenhouse accounting that USDA is now launching.

Also see “USDA Unveils $300M Greenhouse Gas Measurement, Monitoring Plan” at and “Carbon Credits Add Income Stream for Family Ranch” at .

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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