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The Minnesota Daily

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Editorial: Cover crops: Our soil’s path to resilience

The work for better farming cannot be done alone.
Image by Sarah Mai

Farmers are no stranger to resiliency. 

I’ve worked the farmlands of Minnesota for nearly the last three decades of my career – time that has been spent tied to my deep roots within Rock County’s agricultural landscape. I’ve witnessed many challenges and opportunities that have defined our industry, as well as threatened its very livelihood.

The nature of farming is ever-evolving. But amidst these changes, one thing remains constant: the need for sustainable practices that safeguard our livelihoods and environment.

One thing is clear: this work cannot be done by farmers alone. It will take a village—of farmers, community members and committed students to turn the tide of Minnesota’s farming practices. 

Sustainable agricultural practices are, at their core, all about resiliency. Our nation’s land continues to find itself depleted of resources; we have tired soil, increased plant diseases, continued erosion, changing weather patterns and a flurry of extreme storms. In the last 50 years of Minnesota history, there were sixteen mega-rain storms total. Eleven of those storms occurred since the year 2000. 

Those of us who farm the land know we cannot continue on this way. Our soil health practices have to change, or we won’t be farming at all in the next 50 years to come. 

This is where sustainable farming comes into play. The work my peers and I have done in Minnesota has helped raise the discussion of cover crops, and has been critical to our land’s growth. 

A future of sustainable farming practices –– in Minnesota or beyond –– isn’t possible without student-community partnerships helping to educate future ag workers on the importance of soil health practices. When students and community members come together, more progress is able to be made towards regenerative agriculture practices. 

Cover crops, or seeds planted to protect and enhance the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested, help put some of the life back into our soil – life it desperately needs. 

Farmers know about these practices, but they often don’t have the financial luxury to take on the added cost that comes with them. 

The Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience (COVER) Act, championed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and its allies, holds immense promise for Minnesota’s farmers, and farmers nationwide. This legislation offers a $5 per-acre premium subsidy for those who voluntarily participate in a covered insurance program and incorporate cover crops into their conservation efforts.

Many of us are all too aware of the economic challenges our nation is facing. In such uncertain times, the COVER Act’s financial incentive provides crucial support. It helps alleviate the initial costs associated with transitioning to sustainable practices like cover cropping. By doing so, it reduces the financial risk for farmers like me, making it more feasible to adopt these practices.

Furthermore, the COVER Act emphasizes the voluntary nature of its incentives. It does not compel farmers to plant cover crops to be eligible for crop insurance. Instead, it recognizes the diverse conditions in which farmers operate and respects their autonomy in choosing the best practices for their land. This legislation is not a stepping stone toward larger conservation mandates, but rather a pragmatic approach to encourage voluntary action.

For those of us who understand the importance of cover crops, this initiative is a step in the right direction. Cover crops play a vital role in reducing erosion, enhancing soil health and mitigating crop losses. These crops provide year-round protection for our soil, making them a cornerstone of sustainable agriculture.

Many students at the University of Minnesota already have the knowledge and the resources to make a tangible impact on the farming industry for decades to come. It is critical that all students are aware of the changes that currently exist between state and federal programs promoting soil health. Agriculture is a key aspect of life for students in Minnesota, and the demand for those able to help farmers accept and adapt better soil health practices continues to grow. It’s crucial we provide our community with everything they need in order to allow agriculture to provide a future for them.  

Adopting cover crops and other regenerative practices aren’t without their own challenges. Transitioning requires not only financial investments, but also access to technical assistance. Many of us need guidance on how to effectively implement these practices. Collaborative efforts between farmers and conservation agronomists, as seen in states like Iowa and Minnesota, are essential for providing the necessary support.

In a state like ours, where agriculture is the lifeblood of our economy, this legislation can help build a more robust coalition of farmers. When farmers unite to advocate for sustainable practices, legislators are more inclined to listen to our collective voice. I’ve witnessed the power of these coalitions within soil health groups, where ideas are exchanged, and farmers’ concerns are elevated to policymakers.

By embracing the COVER Act, we can position ourselves for a future where sustainable farming practices are not just an option, but a necessity. Minnesota’s rich tradition of agricultural innovation and environmental stewardship is at stake.

It’s time to embrace this opportunity for a more resilient farming future.

Doug Bos has been the Assistant Director of the Rock County SWCD/Land Management Office for over 26 years. Prior to this position, Doug served as an agronomist and Assistant Manager of the Hills-Beaver Creek Farmers Coop.

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