Cover crops are growing in popularity to fight climate change. They now account for twenty-two million acres of land, a 43% increase from past years.
So, what exactly is a cover crop?
A cover crop is a crop planted without harvesting.
While that may sound silly, farmers can benefit from doing this. Cover crops can restore soil and reduce erosion. Plus, they remove carbon from the atmosphere. Because of this, when farmers plant cover crops, they qualify as a carbon offset project. This means the crops can generate carbon credits and create additional revenue.
Popular cover crops include barley, oats, legume, radishes, and rye. Some crops are converted into biofuel or fed to animals. However, leaving the crops to break down in the soil is best for the environment.
Companies, including Bayer, Land O’Lakes, and Cargill, Inc., launched carbon farming programs to offset their own carbon footprint. These programs pay farmers to capture carbon through cover crops.
For example, in 2021, Truterra (a Land O’Lakes subsidiary) paid $4 million to farmers for cover crops – capturing 200,000 metric tons of carbon.
Some critics say cover crops could cause an issue with the supply of seeds. They are also worried that the use of farm chemicals will increase. However, many environmentalists believe that the benefits of cover crops outweigh any risk.
Many in congress recognize the role cover crops can play in reducing carbon.
The Build Back Better legislation put forth by the Biden Administration allocated $28 billion for land conservation programs. $5 billion is to pay farmers and landowners to plant cover crops.
Right now, no one is sure if the bill will pass.
Estimates say by 2030, between 40 and 50 million acres of land could be cover crops.