The National Working Group on Cover Crops and Soil Health—consisting of 19 leaders from various agriculture, conservation, and farm organizations—has released a set of recommendations pertaining to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies and programs. The recommendations support the mutual goal of making American agriculture more sustainable through improved soil health. The report was released during the group's meeting with USDA leaders in Washington, D.C., June 16-17.
"These recommendations provide numerous policy options for continued advancement of cover crops and soil health," said National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Peters. "We look forward to continuing to work closely with USDA and our partners to seek new and innovative strategies to protect and preserve our nation's soils for the future."
The report outlines in detail 10 recommendations, including:
1. Creating a "Mini-CAP" grant program on cover crops and soil health;
2. Developing a strong public-private partnership to provide improved cover crop cultivars;
3. Integrating cover crops and soil health into targeted intramural research programs within ARS;
4. Establishing a National Consortium on Cover Crops and Soil Health;
5. Collecting and reporting on cover crop acreage annually through the Farm Service Agency as part of their annual crop data reporting effort;
6. Decoupling crop insurance eligibility from cover crop management practices;
7. Incentivizing the use of cover crops through federal crop program;
8. Seeking strategic opportunities to further support cover crops within existing NRCS programs;
9. Using a triple-strategy conservation approach for fields coming out of CRP; and
10. Addressing the unique needs of moisture-limited famers and ranches in the West through research on practices that best contribute to soil health, crop insurance adjustments, and the adaptation of NRCS incentive programs to meet regionally-specific soil health needs.
Dr. Rob Myers, a University of Missouri agronomist and co-chair of the Working Group, said "It has been gratifying to discuss ways of advancing the use of cover crops and other soil health practices with USDA leaders. I think there is common agreement on the need to do more in this area."
Click here to view the report.
The National Working Group on Cover Crops and Soil Health was formed on an ad hoc basis following the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. That conference, held in February of 2014, was an invitation-only meeting of 300 industry and government leaders, farmers, researchers, educators, and NGO representatives. It was an action-oriented conference aimed at identifying barriers to further adoption of cover crop and soil health practices and proposing solutions for further growth, with a goal of 20 million acres of cover crops nationally by 2020. The full list of Working Group Members is available on page 16 of the report.