Serious conflicts among government farm program and crop-insurance rules, regarding last fall’s seeding of cover crops, could lead to serious concerns regarding qualification for this year’s payments.

Some of the problems regarding the current cover-crop situation appear to be government agencies talking out of both sides of their mouths. But as most farmers know, that’s nothing new.

The major concern is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is maintaining that if a cover crop was growing on January 1, then it’s considered to be the primary crop.

As a result, corn, soybeans or other crops planted this spring under these circumstances will be treated as a double crop. And since double cropping is not a standard practice in many states and regions, this second crop will not be insurable for farmers in these areas.

Since RMA rules vary by state, these cover-crop concerns may or may not apply to your operation. But you need to be aware of the rules regarding cover crops and how they’re being interpreted in your area in regard to crop insurance and government-program payments.

In some states, crop insurance can’t be purchased for spring-planted crops if a cover crop or any portion of a cover-crop mix has been harvested or has reached the headed or budded stage prior to termination.

Yet in Ohio, the RMA has given farmers until June 5 this year to terminate cover crops to meet crop-insurance requirements because of last year’s wet spring. This was a change from the previous May 15 deadline that also required termination before the cover crop headed or budded. Besides the date extension, the growth-stage requirement has also been removed.

Huge Potential For Losses

But as the current rules are being interpreted, it could spell serious economic concerns for many no-tillers.

As an example, the Farm Security Agency (FSA) in Washington, D.C., earlier this year denied a request for a cover-crop exemption for Illinois. They cited the following existing rules:

1. Any cover crop still growing after January 1 will be considered by FSA to be the year’s primary crop.

2. Corn, soybeans and other crops grown after a cover crop will be considered to be a double crop.

3. If the cover crop is grazed, cut for hay or tilled into the soil, it will be defined as the primary crop for the year. In these instances, the crop planted after a cover crop will not be eligible for crop insurance.

4. If the cover crop is not taken off as hay, grazed or left standing and a no-till crop is seeded, it can be eligible for crop insurance. It will be designated as the “primary crop left standing.”

5. No ground where a cover crop was seeded will be eligible for ACRE payments.

Mike Plumer of Conservation Agriculture in Creal Springs Ill., says these cover-crop rules “will be devastating to Midwestern agriculture.”

FSA staffers in Illinois say the regulations will need to be changed. This would include language in the 2012 Farm Bill to allow cover crops to be used without any penalties.

No-tillers who have signed an EQUIP contract that calls for the use of cover crops could be penalized for getting out of the contract to meet crop-insurance requirements.

“This will have a major negative impact on the adoption of cover crops in Illinois,” says Brett Roberts, state conservation agronomist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Champaign, Ill.

Other Program Concerns

Recent meetings by National Wildlife Federation staffers with the Senate Ag Committee have raised concerns between the ACRE program and cover cropping.

“They are aware of the problem, and find it outrageous and in conflict with the promotion of cover cropping in several conservation programs,” says Eliav Bitan, the group’s ag advisor.

It’s anticipated that policy changes will be announced shortly by the FSA office to address cover-crop issues.

Check with your crop-insurance provider and government ag agencies to make sure you fully understand all the rules regarding cover crop usage.

It’s also a good time to let them know about the benefits of using cover crops in a no-till system.