WASHINGTON — A bipartisan effort in Congress seeks to provide flexibility for haying and grazing cover crops on acres in prevented planting.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., on Feb. 23 introduced the Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters with Cover Crops (FEEDD) Act to provide farmers and ranchers additional flexibility to alleviate feed shortages in years with widespread excessive moisture, flooding or drought. Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Angie Craig, D-Minn., have introduced companion legislation in the House.

The legislation would create an emergency waiver authority for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to allow for haying, grazing or chopping of a cover crop on prevented planting acres before Nov. 1 in the event of a feed shortage due to excessive moisture, flood or drought. Producers would not see a reduction of their crop insurance indemnity under the waiver.

The legislation also would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish regional haying and grazing dates for each crop year. The current date, Nov. 1, is set on a nationwide basis and does not work well for producers in the Upper Midwest, where the growing season ends long before Nov. 1. Setting up regional dates would provide flexibility for the Secretary of Agriculture to move the dates in northern parts of the country.

The legislation also would maintain crop insurance program integrity and would have no impact on producers' Actual Production History.

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“Cover crops are an important tool that enable farmers to better maintain their land and provide an important source of feed for livestock,” Hoeven said in a statement. “It makes sense to provide adequate flexibility in USDA’s rules for cover crops to address disasters, differences in regional climates and local feed shortages. That’s exactly what our bill will provide, while preserving crop insurance program integrity and preventing penalties for farmers.”

“In Wisconsin, when farmers lose a crop to flooding, drought, or other extreme weathers events, they are left with tough choices about how to make up for crop losses and protect their soil from erosion,” Baldwin said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will give farmers more certainty about their feed options in disaster years. By reducing uncertainty for farmers, we’re working to ease one of the headaches they face when deciding about putting in cover crops, which will benefit soil health on the farm and water quality in our communities.”

The date to hay, graze or chop cover crops on prevented planting ground was moved in 2019 and 2020, but those moves took acts of Congress and affected one year only.

“A one-sized-fits-all approach doesn’t always work, and the cover crop harvest date is a good example where this approach falls short,” Johnson said in a statement. “I’m grateful USDA provided an administrative fix to the prevent plant harvest date deadline in 2019 after unprecedented flooding in states like South Dakota, but this date flexibility needs to be permanent and regionally tailored. The government can’t control the weather, but we can enhance predictability for producers when disasters hit.”

“Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, Congress has a responsibility to provide farmers and ranchers the flexibility they need to do their jobs successfully,” Craig said in a statement. “The FEEDD Act will help to support ag producers in Minnesota at no cost to the taxpayer — while incentivizing the planting of cover crops to protect the health and quality of farmers’ soil in Minnesota. I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan, commonsense effort and look forward to its passage in the House.”

Numerous agriculture and conservation groups have endorsed the measure. Industry statements in support of the legislation can be found here.