USDA Loosens Cover Crop Rules Due to Drought


by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor

ABILENE, Kan. (DTN) — Gail Fuller awoke Thursday morning with his phone constantly ringing.

Other farmers were calling the Kansan, asking about cover crop seeds after USDA announced a change in crop insurance rules to allow haying and grazing on cover crops.

“It’s basically my understanding cover crops get a free ride for a year,” Fuller said.

Fuller, who farms near Emporia, Kan., has been part of a team traveling Kansas this week touting the value of long-term use of cover crops to improve soil health. Yet, crop-insurance rules have been one of the stumbling blocks for producers becoming more aggressive about, or even dabbling in, cover crops. “Guys are worried it will mess up their crop insurance and they don’t want to risk that,” Fuller said.

It works in the opposite direction as well. Farmers who believe cover crops increase natural fertilizers in their soil and protect the ground from erosion have been willing to forego crop insurance because of the morass of rules involving cover crops, Fuller said.

Last week at the Iowa State Fair, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a town-hall meeting that he was pushing for USDA’s Risk Management Agency to loosen restrictions on cover crops as a response to the drought and a way to spur more production of livestock forage over winter. Vilsack said agriculture misses an opportunity to increase overall production by not utilizing cover crops or double cropping.

“Crop insurance needs to better engage double cropping,” Vilsack said last week, adding later, “We have not done a good job of looking at this from a long-term basis.”

Yet, USDA policy on insurance has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks. With that, the Risk Management Agency announced Wednesday that farmers would be allowed to plant cover crops for haying or grazing without affecting insurance on their main cash crops on that ground. RMA issued a bulletin on the action stating policyholders may be required to stop haying or grazing in the spring and will be required to terminate the cover crop. Further, some regions may require the cover crop to be terminated prior to reaching the heading or budding stage.

RMA will release more information later in November, detailing the contract changes for spring crops.

The Iowa Corn Growers Association was one of the groups issuing a statement in response to RMA’s announcement praising the decision.

“The ICGA asked the USDA to move forward on this special provision for farmers and livestock producers,” said Kevin Ross, ICGA president and a farmer from Minden. “We applaud the USDA RMA decision which will allow for more critically needed feedstocks to be available for livestock producers here in Iowa and across the country.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service in at least one state — Minnesota — has used Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds to cost-share the planting of cover crops for farmers or livestock producers affected by drought. Nationally, NRCS is offering up to $5 million for conservation innovation grants to producers, state governments and private agencies that would, among other things, “demonstrate cropping or grazing systems that increase resiliency to drought through improved soil health.”

While Fuller is excited about the prospect, he said the big issue now could be assuring there is enough cover crop seed for the demand.

More information on the NRCS grants can be found at

RMA’s announcement can be found at


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Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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