Recently the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Risk Management Agency (RMA) worked together to develop consistent, simple and a flexible policy for cover crop practices, according to a December 2016 USDA Bulletin.

The termination and reporting guidelines were updated for cover crops.


The cover crop termination guidelines provide the timeline for terminating cover crops, are based on zones and apply to non-irrigated cropland. To view the zones and additional guidelines, visit click “Cover Crop Termination Guidelines.”


The intended use of cover only will be used to report cover crops. This includes crops that were terminated by tillage and reported with an intended use code of green manure.

An FSA policy change will allow cover crops to be hayed and grazed. Program eligibility for the cover crop that is being hayed or grazed will be determined by each specific program.

If the crop reported as cover only is harvested for any use other than forage or grazing and is not terminated properly, then that crop will no longer be considered a cover crop.

Crops reported with an intended use of cover only will not count toward the total cropland on the farm. In these situations a subsequent crop will be reported to account for all cropland on the farm.

Cover crops include grasses, legumes, and forbs, for seasonal cover and other conservation purposes. Cover crops are primarily used for erosion control, soil health Improvement, and water quality improvement. The cover crop may be terminated by natural causes, such as frost, or intentionally terminated through chemical application, crimping, rolling, tillage or cutting. A cover crop managed and terminated according to NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines is not considered a crop for crop insurance purposes.

Cover crops can be planted with no subsequent crop planted, before a subsequent crop, after prevented planting acreage, after a planted crop, or into a standing crop.

Confusion Remains

Ryan Stockwell, senior agriculture program manager for the National Wildlife Federation, said he wants to clarify “what the USDA announcement muddied” and to reinforce some key takeaways for producers.

“All of this confusion could be solved by simply ending the antiquated RMA rules on cover crops,” he says. “Again, it’s the only agronomic practice in which RMA has created specific rules tied to eligibility, even though scientific research is conclusively showing cover crops pose less risk to yield loss than other practices.

“Selection of seed traits and crop rotation have larger impacts on yield than cover crops, yet RMA has not created rules on seed selection or crop rotation.”

Stockwell says it’s also important to clarify what all of the language means — namely, that farmers may plant a cover crop into a standing crop as long as the insured crop can be expected to reach average yield.

“Also, one important point not stated is the fact sheet is that weather-caused delays in termination are not grounds for ineligibility for crop insurance,” he adds. “Weather must be taken out of the equation when determining the termination of a cover crop, or if a cover crop interferes with the growth of an insured crop. Simply put, cover crops cannot be blamed for bad weather.”