Do you plant cover crops, or are you thinking about it? Then you may be interested to know about the $5 per acre savings on crop insurance premiums for cover croppers, offered through the IDALS Cover Crop-Crop Insurance Demonstration Pilot. This year’s sign-up is passed, but it’s not too soon to be factoring this into your plans for cover crops next year.

The program was created to help Iowa reach water quality goals by getting more cover crops on the ground. It is an innovative, first-in-the-nation program, and now Illinois and Indiana have followed Iowa’s lead by offering programs of their own. A survey conducted by Iowa State University in partnership with IDALS shows that, as a complement to a suite of cost-share and outreach programs, the pilot has proven to be a cost-effective way to improve water quality and get more cover crops on the ground. 

First, the program correlates to an increase in total cover crop acres planted on each farm. The survey of 182 Iowa farmers showed that over the program’s first three years, on average the total acreage planted to cover crops per farm increased from 365 acres in 2017 to 471 acres in 2019. The percent of the farm’s acreage planted to cover crops also increased from 39.8% to 50% during the same time period. When asked how many additional acres they planted due to the program, farmers estimated about 10% additional acres on average over the three years. 

Second, farmers are planting new acres to cover crops with help of program funds. Farmers were asked how many acres they planted for the first time, and how many additional acres they planted due to the program. On average, farmers planted 32.8% of their cover crops for the first time over the life of the program, or 74 new acres per farm each year. For the program as a whole, about 25% of the acres enrolled were planted to cover crops for the first time, and 15% of acres would not have been planted to cover crops if not for this program. 

Finally, the program is a cost-effective incentive for reducing water pollution. A full, unpublished analysis of survey results compared the cost of reducing water pollution to other cost-share incentive programs and found that it cost between $1.55-$4.24 per pound of nitrogen (results vary because the impact of nitrogen loads varies on different acres). That is less than the cost of other programs that pay a higher rate to cover the cost of cover crops. Of course, the higher rate incentives are still needed to keep up overall levels of cover crop adoption, but as a complement to other strategies, the crop insurance demonstration pilot program looks like a good investment of public dollars that Iowa and other states can use to get more acres of cover crops and go closer toward our water quality goals. 

To learn more about the program or to prepare for the 2021 fall sign-up, visit

This blog posting was brought to you in partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa. To learn more about the organization’s work with cover crops, visit