Checkoff collaboration promotes cover crops, soil health

May 31, 2023

Farmers continue to work toward sustainability goals through the Farmers for Soil Health (FSH) initiative, a partnership among the Soy Checkoff, the Pork Checkoff and the National Corn Growers Association. The partnership involves other entities, including the USDA, which makes cost-sharing available for some soil health practices. FSH is part of a broader USDA project called the Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities, according to Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation.

“We’re making a $3.1 billion investment in producer-led collaborative projects all over the country that are intended to increase the deployment of climate-smart practices: soil health, methane reduction in livestock, nutrient management [and] improved forest management,” said Bonnie, at Commodity Classic, following the signing by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack of an agreement with Farmers for Soil Health. “These are bottom-up projects that producers, producer groups, commodity groups [and] conservation groups have put together across the country.”

The USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program announced last fall its intention to award FSH a $95 million grant. With this award, FSH will launch a program to advance the adoption of cover crops and conservation tillage in the states that collectively produce more than 85 percent of the nation’s corn and soybeans.

USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grant will facilitate major progress toward FSH’s goal of doubling cover crop acres in the U.S. to 30 million acres by 2030. The Partnerships’ overall goals are ambitious. Their outreach, according to USDA’s website, is to more than 60,000 farms, encompassing more than 25 million acres of working land engaged in climate-smart production practices, like cover crops, no-till and nutrient management, as well as pasture and forestry management.

More than 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent are to be sequestered over the lives of the projects, says the agency, equivalent to removing more than 12 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

The agreement with FSH, said Bonnie, represents the first of USDA’s climate-smart projects. “And what we’re going to try to do here is increase the amount of cover crop adoption across, I think, at least 11 states, and we’re really excited about it,” Bonnie told the South Dakota Soybean Network. “Our interest at USDA is to demonstrate that U.S. agriculture, through a voluntary, incentive-based approach, can make a significant impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping solve the climate problem we face, and at the same time, maintain agricultural productivity and do this in a way that pencils for farmers. And this [FSH] project is a really important part of that.”

Undersecretary Bonnie describes USDA’s Climate Smart projects, of which FSH is one, as an initiative from which producers can profit. “This…effort where we create new markets for climate-smart commodities, whether it’s carbon or other things that we think can benefit producers, that they can make money from, that they can be rewarded for, that’s less tangible than the acres or the tons, but we think it’s really important, we think it’s really important to create that model here in the United States,” said Bonnie. “We think it’s a model that may work globally as well and we want to make sure we position U.S. agriculture to be a leader on this.”