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Cover crop rebate would pay dividends for Wisconsin's water quality


A focus on environmental stewardship is ubiquitous in 2021. Governments, companies and farmers alike are seeking ways to address the changing climate. With so many buzzwords and new, sophisticated ideas being floated, it’s important to remember that often the answers are right in front of us.

Cover cropping — an oldie but a goodie — is a well-known way to build healthy soil, keep it from eroding and sequester carbon. Farmers can begin cover cropping relatively easily and it immediately pays dividends for the soil and environment.

But even with current U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that incentivize the practice, cover crops are still only planted on about 6 percent of acres. We can do better. Wisconsin’s neighboring states of Iowa and Illinois have started reimbursing farmers’ crop insurance premiums by $5 for every acre planted in cover crops. This crop insurance rebate program has been popular in both states. It’s time Wisconsin followed suit.

Recognizing the potential of such a program, a coalition of agricultural and environmental groups have endorsed the idea. The groups, which include Clean Water, the Dairy Business Association, The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin and WI Land+Water, recently presented a detailed list of water quality initiatives they would like to see the state implement. They recommend that the state invest $500,000 per year in a crop insurance rebate program.

The timing of the request is no coincidence. Right now, the Wisconsin state budget is being drawn up. With water quality and environmental stewardship at the top of the list of concerns for Wisconsinites, an investment in a proven practice that replicates programs that are working in neighboring states should be a no-brainer. Incentives work, and this would be a small price to pay for huge environmental benefits.

Penterman is a dairy farmer in Thorp, Wis., and president of the Dairy Business Association