With spring on the horizon and the growth of overwintered crops set to begin, farmers with cover crops that need to be terminated to make way for an annual crop might still have questions about practices and timing that might affect the crop insurance on the annual crop.
A number of questions raised on that point during a recent webinar sponsored by the National Center for Appropriate Technology have been answered by the Risk Management Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The RMA administers the federal crop insurance program.
For the most part, farmers with cover crops need not have any concerns regarding crop insurance eligibility for their major crops provided that they observe certain practices, the RMA indicated in its answers. One of the basic points is that the cover crop, whether preceding or following the insured crop, must not interfere with the productivity of the insured crop and must have separate agronomic management.
The RMA's new rules allow the insurance company's adjuster to decide if failure to follow the guidelines for termination of a cover crop affected the insured crop. An amplification on this point indicates that new technology is approved provided that the grower has three years of production records and the written approval from two agricultural experts who have observed the practice.
According to the recent update to the questions prompted by the earlier webinar, this can definitely apply to when the cover crop has been grazed. Another example would be a shorter period between the termination of the cover crop and the planting of the new crop than is recommended for the growing zone (four of them across the United States).
The RMA indicates that people who are considered "agricultural experts" are Extension Service agents; certified crop advisors and consultants; and professional agronomists and horticulturalists. For organic farms, the employees of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE) are designated experts.
Termination of a cover crop means killing it by tillage, herbicide application, mowing, grazing or other another method. If weather delays the termination, the suggested interval before planting the new crop can be adjusted provided the crop insurance agent is informed.
For a variance from those rules, the farmer would need the written approval from the two experts and would need to notify the crop insurance agent before carrying out the differing practice. One candidate for a variance is the establishment of a crop that would benefit pollinators.
For both the seeding of an insured crop into the existing cover crop and for interseeding of the cover crop into an insured crop, one point the RMA emphasized is that separate agronomic management practices must be possible and carried out.
It is possible to interseed a cover crop into corn when side dressing a fertilizer, provided that the growth of the corn will not be impaired, the RMA said. However, it suggests the interseeding, preferably by an aerial method, wait until the insured crop has reached physiological maturity.
The agency also recommends the farmer check with the Natural Resource Conservation Service for possible funding of the cover crop through the Conservation Stewardship Program or the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.
In cases when the farmer has received a payment for prevented planting, a cover crop may be planted at any time. However, it cannot be harvested for hay or grazed until November 1, nor can it be harvested for grain or seed.
The NRCS has oversight authority on the termination guidelines and practices, while the RMA provides education for the crop insurance companies and their agents.
Farmers are encouraged to report their cover crop acreage to their county Farm Service Agency office at no cost. The cover crop rules and cautions apply only to non-irrigated acres. This indicates that a major concern with cover crops is the moisture that they might take from the insured crop.