Cover crops can help farmers address climate change with Legislature’s support

By John Clayton, of Grinnell, Iowa

I am writing to express alarm about rapid climate change. Scientists agree that climate change is occurring fast. The facts are overwhelming. Consequently, most mainstream Christian denominations, such as, Episcopal, Lutheran, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ, and other religions, are warning about carbon dioxide emissions changing our climate.

Our climate is manifesting extreme weather events in a frequency that we have never witnessed. It is those extremes; such as, drought, fire, extreme rainfall, floods, hurricanes, and the like, that are affecting us.

Iowa farmers need to address some of our own underlying causes of rapid climate change and step up as leaders in bringing about solutions. Farmers must increase cover crops to lock carbon into the soil. By combining no-till with cover crops, researchers at Ohio State University estimate that soil carbon could be stocked at 500 to 2,000 pounds of carbon per acre per year. But cover crops can’t be expenses heaped upon family farmers suffering from low crop prices. To improve our soil and water, we need cover crops on tens of millions of acres in Iowa. The scale of change needed is beyond pointing a finger at one farmer, community, or river. What is needed is a change of the whole system.

We need our state legislators to pass a bill that establishes an agriculture property tax exemption applied to those acres planted with a cover crop. This credit could fit into broader property tax reforms under consideration this session.

As the wind generators need the breeze to swing the blades, our farmers need a property tax exemption to propel their endeavors. The results will benefit everyone and boost the health of our valuable soils.

John Clayton, of Grinnell, Iowa, is a native life conservation enthusiast, farmer, and member of Poweshiek Community Action to Restore Environmental Stewardship. He is a Poweshiek County Soil and Water Commissioner and an English River Watershed Authority volunteer.

Feature photo: Our climate is manifesting extreme weather events in a frequency that we have never witnessed. It is those extremes; such as, drought, fire, extreme rainfall, floods, hurricanes, and the like, that are affecting us.​ In the last month, many fields in western Iowa, like the one pictured, have been under water due to increased rainfall. | Photo by Rhea Landholm