By Jon Daggett, former CEO of Nat’l Corn Growers Assn

Jon DoggettAs a ranch kid from Montana, I experienced the hard work that goes into feeding America and the world. In the years since, I’ve spent a career in the agriculture industry, pushing for policies to help farmers and ranchers survive and succeed. Through ups and downs, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of conservation programs – not only for the environment but for the farmer’s bottom line.

Farming has always been and always will be difficult. Droughts and floods impact yields. Erosion pulls nutrients from our soil. But as costs increase and global populations rise, farmers’ jobs are becoming tougher – and more important – than ever before.

To stand up to these challenges and sustain farming, we need to support conservation efforts that protect the soil farmers need to grow and the waterways we need to thrive. That’s why we need a strong crop insurance program that helps farmers manage risk and incentivizes conservation.

The good news is that we already know what these conservation practices look like. During my time at the National Corn Growers Association, we pushed for good conservation practices like cover crops that are backed by data and are actuarially sound based on crop insurance standards. Planting cover crops reduces risk and provides an array of conservation and environmental benefits – reducing soil erosion, enriching soil health, controlling weeds, and improving biodiversity. These benefits lead to more resilient crops and a healthier ecosystem, boosting the staying power of farms. Currently, less than 5% of U.S. cropland is planted with cover crops – and with more support, we can find opportunity for expansion.

We also endorsed other data-driven conservation practices, like the split-application of nitrogen. Farmers understand corn needs nitrogen at key times during a crop’s growth cycle: apply the wrong amount or apply at the wrong time, and you risk low yields or nitrogen runoff that can lead to water quality problems and greenhouse gas emissions. Fertilizer is expensive, and it does a farmer no good if it is washed off the field or goes into the air. That’s why we worked with USDA and a number of partners to develop PACE – a program that gives farmers the security to split-apply nitrogen to increase efficiency, reduce run-off and leaching, and lower total costs. By doing this, farmers can keep soil more nutrient-rich and waterways clean and make it easier to grow healthy crops.

The challenge – for these practices and others – is that farmers who choose to use them often have to pay a cost upfront and may have some yield loss in the first several years. While there are benefits in the long term, there are potential risks in the short term.

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