WASHINGTON — Agricultural producers with crop insurance can hay, graze or chop cover crops for silage, haylage or baleage at any time and still receive 100% of the prevented planting payment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Tuesday, July 6.

Previously, cover crops could only be hayed, grazed or chopped after Nov. 1; if they were used earlier the prevented planting payment was reduced by 65%.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency added this flexibility as part of a broader effort to encourage producers to use cover crops, an important conservation and good farming practice. Cover crops are especially important on fields prevented from planting as they help reduce soil erosion and boost soil health.

“We work diligently to ensure the Federal crop insurance program helps producers effectively manage risk on their farms while also conserving natural resources,” said acting RMA administrator Richard Flournoy. “We are dedicated to responding to the needs of producers, and this flexibility is good for agriculture and promotes climate smart agricultural practices. We are glad we can better support producers who use cover crops.”

RMA says it recognizes "that cover crops are not planted as an agricultural commodity but rather with the primary purpose for conservation benefits." For the 2021 crop year and beyond, RMA will not consider a cover crop planted following a prevented planting claim to be a second crop. But RMA will continue to consider a cover crop harvested for grain or seed to be a second crop, and it remains subject to a reduction in the prevented planting indemnity in accordance with the policy.

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This decision to allow flexibility for the 2021 crop year and to make the change permanent for future years builds on the advanced research and identified benefits cover crops have supporting healthy soils and cropland sustainability efforts. Additionally, this decision aligns with the 2018 Farm Bill’s designation of cover crops as a good farming practice.

To learn more about this policy change, visit RMA’s Prevented Planting webpage. The webpage also has the latest Cover Crop Termination Guidelines, which USDA updated in 2019 as a result of greater flexibilities provided in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, cheered the move in a statement.

“We’ve worked to advance this flexibility as it empowers farmers and ranchers to better care for their land and adapt to local challenges, like severe weather, drought, flooding and feed shortages,” Hoeven said. “The one-size-fits-all approach didn’t work for our producers, especially those in northern states like North Dakota, and I appreciate USDA for working with us to remove the Nov. 1 requirement for utilizing cover crops.”