New Rules May Open Door For Cover Crops

No-tillers who follow the NRCS’ new guidelines on termination dates can reap the benefits of covers without losing their crop insurance.

No-tillers who have avoided using cover crops in the past because of conflicts with insurance adjusters should find some new flexibility beginning this fall.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) this year released new guidelines on when cover crops should be terminated in various cropping systems.

The new rules — tailored to individual regions and climates — revised polices that sometimes created conflicts with crop insurance provisions. They give more power to local NRCS agents and “local experts” to make decisions about termination questions.

The policy changes were made after a USDA task force was convened earlier this year to tackle contradictions among federal agencies on the use of cover crops — particularly as it pertained to crop insurance.

The USDA, NRCS, Farm Service Agency (FSA), Risk Management Agency (RMA), National Wildlife Federation and other stakeholders, such as the National Association of Conservation Districts, National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association were involved.

The new guidelines are already in place for the 2014 crop year, beginning with the winter wheat crop planted this fall and following through with cash crops planted next spring.

The new NRCS rules were developed based on research literature, plant growth and soil hydrology models, as well as input from national and local experts in cover-crop management. The new rules apply to non-irrigated cropland, including systems that contain a fallow period, and to cover crops actively growing at the time of termination.

Cover crops can’t interfere with agronomic management or harvest of the main crop…

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John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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