Cover Crops to Safeguard Watersheds in Finger Lakes Region
For Release: Friday, April 7, 2023
Today, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Agriculture and Markets (AGM) announced the Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative. The state is investing $370,000 in cover crops to reduce erosion, protect water quality, and implement watershed management plans in and around the Finger Lakes. Cover crops are planted in late fall following the harvest of traditional crops and promote soil health by reducing erosion, runoff, and weeds, as well as filtering surface water and protecting groundwater.
Supporting the Agricultural Community
New York’s farmers play a critical role in conserving natural resources and combatting climate change. The state is making record investments in water infrastructure and effective efforts such as the Cover Crop Initiative to protect and preserve soil and water quality in the Finger Lakes region. County Soil and Water Conservation Districts will work with farms to implement cover crop projects, helping the agricultural community protect the environment.
Cover Crops and Water Quality
Cover crops are an excellent best management practice to promote soil health and prevent water pollution. Common cover crops in New York State include rye, oats, wheat, radishes, peas, clover, and sunflowers. They help to retain nutrients in the ground and increase soil organic matter, improving soil health. Furthermore, they help to reduce runoff, and soil erosion by creating a barrier on the soil surface. These crops are highly effective at absorbing excess nutrients, filtering surface water, and protecting groundwater. Cover crops also help to reduce weeds, combat pests, and sequester carbon dioxide emissions in the soil.
Expanded Program in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative builds on the highly successful Eastern Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative, which implemented almost 5,000 acres of cover crops from 2018 to 2023. Soil and Water Conservation Districts from Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Onondaga, Ontario, Seneca, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins, and Yates counties will use the state’s Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) framework to plan, implement, and evaluate cover crop projects. Funding will be made available to farms to incorporate cover cropping into their annual crop planting systems.
State Soil and Water Conservation Committee Support
Dale Stein, the State Soil and Water Conservation Committee Chair, said that cover crops are a leading best management practice used to protect water quality. By having a growing crop on the fields as close as possible to 12 months a year, runoff is greatly reduced, and the cover crop takes up excess nutrients to protect the Finger Lakes’ world-renowned water resource. The DEC funding is another critical step towards helping farmers transition to climate-safe practices that protect the health of soils and waterways and combat climate change.
Funding for the Initiative
The Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative receives funding from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which is sustained at a historic $400 million through Governor Kathy Hochul’s 2023-24 Executive Budget. The EPF provides funding for critical environmental programs, including land acquisition, farmland protection, invasive species prevention, enhanced recreational access, water quality improvement, and an aggressive environmental justice agenda.
The state’s Agricultural Nonpoint Source and Abatement Control Grant Program and its Climate Resilient Farming Program, launched in 2010, have provided $12.2 million in funding for 547 landowners who contributed $6.2 million in cost-sharing funds for cover crops across more than 200,000 acres of farmland in New York State.
The Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative is another step taken by New York State to safeguard natural resources and encourage agricultural sustainability. The state recognizes the importance of protecting water quality and building soil health, and cover crops are a highly effective tool in achieving these goals. By supporting farm operations and promoting healthy soil practices, the state aims to preserve the Finger Lakes’ natural beauty and support its unique ecosystem for generations to come.