Report: Farmers Could Do More To Protect Soil From Drought
By Bill Wheelhouse, with additional reporting from The Associated Press
Farmers across the country received more than $17 billion in federal crop insurance payouts after last year’s drought. A report released Tuesday by an environmental group blames farmers for not doing enough to shield the soil against the heat.
According to The Natural Resources Defense Council, farmers could have greatly reduced losses if they had been working to improve soil health. The NRDC suggests that planting certain grasses and legumes and implementing a set of soil conservation practices could nearly drought-proof fields. That would save farmers a lot of headache and taxpayers a lot of money.
Many farmers, though, are not exactly sold on the report’s findings.
Doug Wilson is a farmer in Livingston County Illinois, which had the highest crop insurance payout in the nation. Wilson said it would have been hard for those practices to fend off last year’s extreme heat and dryness. He paraphrased former President Dwight Eisenhower when reacting to the report.
“It’s a lot easier to farm with a pencil from a thousand miles away than it is to actually have your hand on the plow,” Wilson said.
Meanwhile, Illinois officials are kicking off a three-year project aimed at encouraging farmers to plant environmentally friendly cover crops as part of an effort to boost sustainable farming around the state.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture says the demonstration involves planting certain crops such as grasses and legumes in fields after the regular growing season. Sometimes the seeds are even planted before a crop is harvested. The cover crops reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff from farm fields, which in turn improve water and soil quality.
Officials say the project will begin this fall when 14 highly visible corn and soybean fields are seeded with cover crops. The fields were selected because they're along interstates or state highways.
Each plot will be accompanied by a sign with the project's website: covercrops.illinois.gov.