Illinois legislators propose bill to boost ag conservation efforts
Two legislators who represent Illinois in Congress have introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a Conservation Assistance Loan program.
The program would be modeled after the existing Marketing Assistance Loan.
The bill has been introducted by U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
The legislators said the program would offer loan rates that better reflect current market conditions, bolster the loan rate for new and beginning farmers and provide a new incentive to help interested farmers voluntarily adopt practices like cover crops to improve soil health.
“I’m happy to join this bipartisan effort to ensure our farmers have every tool available to improve soil health and reduce nutrient runoff,” Bost said in a news release.
“Cover crops, along with cutting edge technology, benefit the environment, the bottom line of the farmer, and allow for this generation of agriculture producers to pass along the land in better condition than when they received it.”
“The Conservation Assistance Loan Act would create a new tool to help Illinois farmers improve soil health and reduce nutrient runoff while still putting the best food on your table,” Bustos said.
“Farmers are stewards of the land – it is where they live, work, and raise their family.
“Most farmers I talk to want to use cover crops and take other steps to be more sustainable and improve soil health, but face challenges that can make it tough to get started. The Conservation Assistance Loan Act would help them overcome these challenges and improve both their operation and land.”
Specifically, the Conservation Assistance Loan Act would:
Base conservation assistance loan rates on 60 percent of the 5-year Olympic Moving Average, 5YOMA, of the Marketing Year Average, MYA, prices.
Bolster the loan rate to incentivize conservation or soil health best practices like cover crops.
Offer a higher loan rate to beginning farmers to help them start their operation.
The legislators said the bill is endorsed by the Illinois Farm Bureau.
Cover crops are seen as one of the best ways to improve soil health and reduce nutrient runoff. They prevent soil erosion, cut fertilizer use and protect water quality.
A recent survey of producers using cover crops from USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program showed that more than 86 percent of respondents reported improved soil health and reported average yield increases for corn were estimated at 2.3 bushels and 2.1 bushels for soybeans.
While an increasingly popular practice, the financial, labor and technical expertise required to plant and manage cover crops poses a major barrier to getting started.
Though their benefits are well-documented, returns on the investment are not immediate as the improvements in soil health and yields take time.
The legislators said that the Conservation Assistance Loan Act would help farmers to overcome these obstacles making it easier to use cover crops and improve soil health.