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Cover crop incentive programs boost farmer adoption
New York Ag Connection - 09/26/2023

A recent study found that cover crop incentive programs doubled the amount of land devoted to cover crops by farmers in the Northeast. The study also found that many farmers continued to plant cover crops even after the incentive payments ceased.

Cover crops are crops that are planted to improve soil health, reduce erosion, and protect water quality. They can also help to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.

The study, published in the journal Agricultural and Environmental Letters, surveyed 328 farmers in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Vermont. The researchers found that farmers who participated in incentive programs planted an average of 101 hectares (250 acres) of cover crops, compared to 51 hectares (125 acres) for farmers who did not participate in the programs.

The researchers also found that cover crop use remained 37% higher than before farmers enrolled in the programs, even after the payments ceased.

"So, there's a lasting legacy effect," said Matthew Ryan, associate professor of soil and crop sciences at Cornell University and senior author of the study.

Ryan said that the study highlights the importance of funding to help farmers adopt cover crops.

"Cover crops don't provide farmers with immediate returns on their investments, unlike cash crops," he said. "It's really important to be able to provide funding to help farmers explore the use of cover crops and get started and integrate them into their operations."

The study also found that farmers who participated in the incentive programs were typically more experienced, male farmers with larger conventional farms.

Ryan said that more needs to be done to reach a broader audience with cover crop incentive programs.

"One thing we were thinking, if we want to reach a broader audience with these programs, we should target farmers who are different from those who have already participated," he said. These may include new and beginning farmers, women farmers, those operating smaller farms, and organic farmers, Ryan said.

Ryan said that the Inflation Reduction Act and new climate-smart commodity funding will make additional funding available for cover crop incentive programs through the USDA.

The study was funded by the USDA Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and the New York Soil Health Initiative.

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