Illinois Cover Crop Legislation: Insights from ICCON’s June Update

On June 12th ICCON was joined by Dylan Cook, Midwest Policy Manager with American Farmland Trust, Dr. Corey Lacey, Environmental Policy Manager with Illinois Soybean Association, and special guest, Dr. Michael Woods, Director of the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts. This trio provided the group with an excellent comprehensive update on various legislative issues and policy items related specifically to agricultural conservation in Illinois.

To kick off the call, Dylan Cook gave an update on the Fall Covers for Spring Savings (FCSS) program which is administered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture through an MOU with Risk Management Agency. The program provides a $5 per acre rebate on crop insurance premiums to farmers who plant cover crops and certify their acres with the Farm Service Agency. The goals of the program go beyond simply offering a monetary incentive to farmers. Ultimately the use of cover crops helps to improve water quality and reach the nutrient loss reduction goals laid out in the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy for Illinois. The program can also serve as a means of collecting and hopefully verifying that cover crop use is a risk reduction strategy from an insurance perspective as well as a production perspective. If cover cropped acres are less likely to be the subject of an insurance claim then it is a win-win for both the farmer and the federal crop insurance. However, the benefits don’t end there. Cover cropping can provide numerous other benefits to the farmer and the public in general. Benefits such as, improved soil health, better nutrient retention and cycling, improved soil structure, increased organic matter and weather resiliency are just a few of the additional benefits cover crops bring to the agriculture system.

Dylan Cook explained that calculations for the nutrient load reductions were calculated using the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy’s data and American Farmland Trust’s Project by County Outcomes Calculator Tool.

In 2024 the FCSS program accepted 140,000 acres, with 100,000 acres funded by the state and an additional 40,000 acres through Gulf Hypoxia Task Force funds. The improved enrollment system coupled with the popularity of the program meant the acres were filled within about 38 minutes of the enrollment opening. The 2025 state budget increased the acreage allotment by 50,000, to a total of 150,000 acres, and program advocates are hopeful that additional acres will be made available through federal match funding from the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force.

Next up, Dr. Michael Woods provided an update on funding challenges for Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) as well as a vision for what can be done moving forward. In Illinois, there are 97 SWCDs that serve all 102 counties in the state. The elephant in the room is that SWCDs have now taken a substantial budget cut that will likely have some significant impacts on the individuals that are the frontline, boots on the ground, conservation staff that are incredibly important to helping farmers secure funding and implement conservation practices on their farms.

Dr. Woods explained that the budget cuts impact the ability to hire and retain employees. Individuals may choose other industries or opportunities due to lack of funds and job security.

These cuts will not only impact SWCDs capacity to assist farmers but on a more personal level it will impact the well-being of the district employees and their families. Employees need their jobs to support their families and the districts need staff to carry out the duties and responsibilities that the district has to its farmers. Staff turnover and/or reduction is a real concern and could potentially lead to extended periods of not having adequate district personnel. Establishing trusted relationships with farmers is critical to the work of SWCD staff. But to do that, staff must be happy and secure in their positions. To support SWCD staff and efforts, Dr. Woods encourages everyone to become an association member and connect with your local staff. You can directly help to connect and establish relationships with farmers and landowners with their local SWCDs. You can also support by sharing your stories about ways that SWCDs have supported you! To learn more about SWCDs, to become a member, and to support their work, visit

Dr. Corey Lacey wrapped up the presentations with an update on some federal happenings around the farm bill. At the federal level the House and Senate are split by party lines. Republicans hold the House and Democrats hold the Senate. This makes passing farm bill legislation that much more difficult. As most people know, the farm bill has tremendous impact on many parts of agriculture and food systems and therefore has many opinions and positions that have to come together for consensus before any legislation can truly move forward. Dr. Lacey is predicting that we will not see a farm bill be done this year. This pushes the farm bill into 2025 when we seat a new Congress, and everything will reset.

In the world of ag policy and funding, it seems that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. Thank you to our presenters and we look forward to hearing from you again in the future!

The June full presentation can be viewed on ISAP’s YouTube channel. Over the summer, ICCON will explore a new series related to the management of weeds, diseases, and pests in cover crop systems. Register for upcoming ICCON series!  If you are interested in joining the  Illinois Cover Crop On-Farm Network to learn about new research and hear from cover crop specialists across the Midwest, please join our google group by sending an email to 

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Torey Colburn

Torey Colburn is a Conservation Agronomist with American Farmland Trust. Torey is a Certified Crop Advisor who provides conservation and agronomy technical assistance to farmers and landowners. The technical assistance will result in increased farmer participation and engagement in programs and projects that improve productivity, profitability, and sustainability.