No-tillers who use summer fallow in their rotations and are enrolled in crop insurance should exercise caution if they plan to seed or graze cover crops this year.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) made changes to the summer fallow crop-insurance policy, says Ryan Stockwell, senior agriculture program manager with the National Wildlife Federation:

  • The cover-crop termination requirement is pushed out to 90 days before intended insured crop-planting date for late spring- to fall-planted crops. The termination requirement remains “as soon as practical” for cover crops preceding early spring-planted crops such as wheat, barley or corn, Stockwell says.
  • Grazing of a cover crop is now prohibited under a summer-fallow crop insurance policy. It is still allowed under continuous-cropping coverage.

The new termination deadlines for cover crops before summer or fall-seeded insured crops may not fit in well with weather realities.

“It’s quite possible a number of producers will experience delays when terminating their cover crops, according to this new deadline,” Stockwell says. “In that event, no-tillers should document any delays in cover-crop termination and seek written guidance from NRCS or local Extension offices. The cover crop cannot be blamed for weather-caused delays in termination.”

Stockwell says these changes don’t fall in line with earlier assessments and modeling conducted by the NRCS regarding impacts on soil-moisture levels — the main concern the RMA has regarding cover crops in a dry environment.

I think no-tillers deserve an explanation from the RMA about this decision. It seems the agency is contradicting some NRCS agents who’ve been promoting the benefits of cover crops and mob grazing. A recent study by Texas A&M found that cover crops do use water, but that doesn’t guarantee it will have a negative effect on cash crops.

The reason the RMA, NRCS and Farm Service Agency got together a year ago was to eliminate these contradictions to federal policy.

Click here to see what some of your fellow no-tillers have to say.

John Dobberstein,
Managing Editor
No-Till Farmer