Are we at the point where we need to incentivize sustainable farming practices?
The state of Maryland has been paying farmers, in some cases up to $90 per acre, to plant cover crops on their fields. Cover crops (generally grasses and legumes) are grown after main crops have been harvested; they help to prevent erosion and runoff, and replenish nutrients in the soil. Maryland's program has seen much success - cover crops can be found on over 50% of the corn fields in an area called the Eastern Shore.
In Iowa and Illinois, where no payment program exists, less than 3% of the corn and soybean farms have cover crops. Environmental planners from both states want to see that number rise to around 60%, in order to reduce nutrient runoff into streams.
Many farmers don't bother with cover crops because they do not have the time or resources for the extra labor, but advocates of the practice say that farmers inevitably save money because they do not have to buy as much fertilizer.
Check out the full article on N.P.R.