Iowa Cover Crop - Crop Insurance Demonstration Pilot survey results
The Iowa Cover Crop - Crop Insurance Demonstration Pilot Program, is a novel program that gives farmers a five-dollar per-acre discount on their crop-insurance premium, for acres on which they planted cover crops. The program is administered by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), who partnered with the USDA Risk Management Agency to provide funding. Iowa was the first state to have this type of program, which began in 2017.
A survey was sent to a sample of farmers to understand farmers’ motivations for enrolling in the program. Respondents answered questions regarding their participation in the Demonstration Pilot, their experience with cover crops in general, and background information about their farm. Overall, 195 farmers started the survey, with 182 usable responses.
Table 1 breaks down the sample by farmers’ participation in the Demonstration Pilot and shows that about three-quarters of the survey respondents participated in the program at some point. The number of respondents enrolled in the program increased year-to-year, with 85 farmers (47% of the sample) participating during the Fall of 2019.
The farms in this sample are 905 acres, on average, with roughly the same number of small (fewer than 500 acres), medium (500 to 999 acres), and large (1,000 acres or more) farms. Farms are 47% rented, on average, which is slightly less than the state average of 53% (Zhang, Plastina, and Sawadgo 2018).
Farmers’ cover crop use
To understand potential cover crop networks in place, survey respondents were asked to estimate the percentage of the farmers in their town or township that use cover crops. About two-thirds of respondents estimate that less than 10% of their neighbors use cover crops (Figure 1).
Table 2 shows the respondents’ total cover crop acreage, acreage in the Demonstration Pilot, acreage subsidized by other cost-share programs, and unsubsidized cover crop acreage from 2017 to 2019. Farmers are not allowed to simultaneously enroll the same acreage in the Demonstration Pilot and other cost-share programs. Total cover crop acreage and acreage subsidized by the Demonstration Pilot and other cost-share programs increased over the period, with the average farm planting 472 cover crop acres in 2019, constituting slightly more than half of acres operated by the farm. The average farm had 152 cover crop acres in cost-share programs and 294 acres in the Demonstration Pilot in 2019. The respondents’ average percentage of farmland that has cover crops also increased over the period. Cover crop acreage planted without funding fell from 74 to 26 acres per farm, from 2017 to 2019.
Program participants were asked how they first learned about the Demonstration Pilot (Figure 2). Twenty-three percent of respondents stated that they learned about the program from their crop insurance agent, 23% from their local NRCS, FSA, or SWCD office staff, 19% from commodity or farm bureau publications, and 16% from farm magazines.
Over the three years analyzed, farmers were asked how many of their acres in the Demonstration Pilot were planted to cover crops for the first time, and how many acres they planted because of the program (Table 3). Farmers, each year had 84 acres in the program that they planted to cover crops for the first time, on average, which amounts to one-quarter of the acreage they enrolled in the Demonstration Pilot. They also planted 65 acres that they would not have in absence of the program, on average, or about 15% of the acres enrolled in the program.
Farmers who stated that they did not enroll acreage in the Demonstration Pilot any of the three years were asked their reason for not participating (Figure 3). Sixty percent of non- participants did not use the program because their cover crop acreage was enrolled in other cost-share programs, followed by 34% who were unaware of the program.
Perceived impacts of cover crops on yield
Lastly, farmers were asked how they perceive that cover crops affected yields of the subsequent cash crop harvested in 2018 and 2019. The majority of respondents reported no yield change in corn or soybeans between cover cropped and non-cover cropped fields (Table 4). Among the farmers who see a difference in subsequent cash crop yield, more farmers report a yield bump than a yield drag from cover crops.
Conclusions and highlights
Among respondents, cover crop use, cost-share program enrollment, and participation in the Demonstration Pilot increased from 2017 to 2019. Among farmers who did not participate in the Demonstration Pilot, 60% did not do so because their cover crop acreage was enrolled in other cost-share programs. Farmers estimate that they have higher subsequent corn and soybean yields due to cover crops, on average; however, the majority of farmers do not see a difference in subsequent cash crop yield between cover cropped and non-cover cropped fields. About 25% of the acres enrolled in the program were planted to cover crops for the first time, and 15% of acres would not have been planted to cover crops in absence of the program.
Zhang, W., A. Plastina, and W. Sawadgo. 2018. Iowa farmland ownership and tenure survey 1982-2017: A thirty-five year perspective. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach PM 1983. Ames, IA: Iowa State University.
Wendiam Sawadgo, assistant professor and extension economist, Auburn University (Alabama), ISU Department of Economics PhD graduate, email@example.com