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Should Farmers Get Paid to Use Cover Crops?

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Secretary Sonny Perdue in Indiana. Photo: Gary Truitt

Should Farmers Get Paid to Use Cover Crops?

Farmers in Indiana are adopting the use of cover crops in record numbers, but that is not the case in other states. Some have suggested USDA pay farmers to adopt cover crops.   During his recent visit to Indiana, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sat down with a group of Indiana farmers to talk about how to get more farmers to start using cover crops and adopting other soil health methods. Perdue said he favors a carrot and stick approach, “I think there needs to be positive incentives, that we call the carrot; but, also for those people who do not want to follow good conservation practices that improve the environment, there needs to be at least the threat of consequences, the stick.”

Perdue praised Indiana for its partnership approach when it comes to conservation but  indicated more needs to be done, “There are a lot of good things being done on the farm regarding runoff and nutrient management, but we need to do more.”

Edwardsport Indiana farmer Don Villwock told the Secretary that improving the profit picture for farmers would go a long way to encouraging adoption of cover crops, “Personally, I am a much better conservationist at $5 corn and $13 soybeans than I am today at break even. These USDA incentives are useful and instructive; but, in the long term if we are going to be sustainable, we have to be profitable.”

Perdue told the group he wants USDA to be seen as a facilitator rather than a regulator. He stressed there needs to be a balance between the carrot and the stick. The more than 2 dozen farmers and farm leaders who met with Perdue stressed that USDA programs need to be more flexible, allowing farmers to make changes to cope with weather and crop conditions.