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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

A Practical State Program That Would Support Soil Health

Michael Fields Agricultural Institute researchers have long conducted research on farming practices that build healthy, biologically active soils, and our policy team has supported policies that create incentives for their inclusion in farming systems.

A recent opinion piece in the on-line news group Food Tank speaks to the many reasons healthy soils matter so much – for resilience in the face of a worsening climate, for their sponge-like capacity to hold water and support farmers in the face of both drought and flood conditions.  For their sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere.  For the health of the plants they grow and people they feed.   It’s a whole-system analysis of farming that makes sense to us at the Institute.

The piece talks about the policy disincentives to nurture healthy soil – the crop insurance and other subsidies that support heavily mono-cropped acreage of corn or soybeans.  It reminds us why it’s so important for Wisconsin to follow in the lead of its neighbors – Iowa and recently Illinois – to create a program that offers farmers a discount on their crop insurance premium for acreage planted into cover crops.  In Wisconsin, only six percent of farming acres are planted into cover crops.  We can do better than that, and we should.

This winter, MFAI conducted a survey of Wisconsin farmers to find out if such a crop insurance premium discount might motivate them to plant cover crops.  The answer?  A resounding yes – with two thirds of respondents saying it would increase their acreage or frequency of planting cover crops.  Policy Director Margaret Krome recently wrote an editorial for The Capital Times about what such a program might look like and why it matters for legislative and state leaders from both parties to get behind it.  With farmers in such economic stress and this year’s weather making a hard job terribly hard, doesn’t this seem like a smart time to help farmers out and build the soil health that can sustain our state’s agriculture into new generations?