December 6, 2011
On December 1, the Springfield IL Regional Office of USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced that it was easing some restrictions that limit crop insurance coverage on crops that are planted following a cover crop. The modification affects corn, popcorn, sweet corn, hybrid seed corn, pumpkins, soybeans, grain sorghum, and processing beans grown in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
Many farmers in these four states, and other states, have recognized the value of cover crops to protect soil, soak up excess nutrients to lessen water pollution, fix nitrogen, and increase soil organic matter. Cover crops are also an important component of many organic cropping systems. Farm Bill programs including the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program provide farmers with cost-share funding and technical assistance to establish cover crops.
The Risk Management Agency, however, has been on a long road to understanding the value of cover crops. The starting point was RMA’s general assumption that cover crops have a negative impact on the yield of subsequent crops. Farmers who allowed a cover crop to reach the headed or budded stage and/or harvested the cover crop could be ineligible for crop insurance on the subsequent crop.
In January 2011, the RMA Regional Office in Springfield Illinois issued a fact sheet modifying that position and establishing a process for farmers to request a Written Agreement to provide coverage for a crop planted after a cover crop by submitting a Request for Actuarial Change through a crop insurance agent. The farmer had to provide in the request information that included evidence from agricultural experts that the crop to be insured can be grown using the cover crop practice and that the practice is used commercially to grow the subsequent crop and that there is a viable market for that crop. A Written Agreement approved by the RMA had to include a rate, a transitional yield by crop for acreage farmed with the cover crop practice, and an understanding that the cover crop growth must be terminated by May 15 of the current crop year.
In Spring 2011, heavy rains pelted the Eastern corn belt and many farmers who had entered into Written Agreements could not get into their fields to terminate cover crops. The RMA Regional Office extended the date for terminating a cover crop for corn and soybeans.
Over the summer, the RMA Regional Office entered into discussions about cover crops with farmers, agronomists, NGOs, the NRCS and others. These discussions emphasized work done by organizations such as the Practical Farmers of Iowa and sustainable agriculture researchers at Midwest Land Grant Universities that has demonstrated the value of cover crop systems.
As a result of this work, the Springfield Regional Office announced a further easing of crop insurance restrictions in the 4-state region. For 2012, RMA has modified the limitation so that crops planted following a cover crop are insurable as long as the cover crop is killed or harvested before June 5, without consideration of the stage reached by the crop. The cover crop practice is defined as a crop planted within twelve months of planting the insurable crop that is recognized as a sound agronomic conservation practice for the area.