While cover crops are becoming more popular among no-tillers, you’d better take a closer look at how the practice may impact crop insurance payments. Unfortunately, cover crops could inadvertently terminate your crop insurance coverage.

There are many reasons to seed cover crops, and it’s getting more complicated as growers mix legumes, brassicas, small grains and other crops together in tankmixes.

Be Cautious

Chris Bruynis, an Ohio State University extension educator, says the Risk Management Agency (RMA) recognizes that cover crops are ergonomically sound for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement.

But depending on the stage of development, cover crops may make an insurable crop ineligible for insurance. The key is understanding the subtle interpretations in the RMA rules, he says.

As an example, RMA doesn’t permit crop insurance coverage for small grain interplanted with another crop, such as soybeans.

“This interplanting rule specifically prohibits the use of a grain drill or other tillage-based planting of cover-crop seed,” Bruynis says. “The only approved method for establishing a cover-crop seeding in standing wheat would be broadcasting the seed over the top of the wheat. Once wheat is harvested, drilling is acceptable.”

Bruynis says most policies indicate any acreage following another crop that has reached the head and/or bud stage and harvested in the same calendar year is not eligible for crop insurance.

So cover crops seeded following wheat, soybeans or corn might not be insurable. I’d think this also rules out coverage for both wheat and soybeans in a double-cropping scenario.

Bruynis also looked at a situation where wheat, corn or soybeans are no-tilled after a cover crop. “The goal would be to make sure the cover crop does not reach the head or bud stage of growth development to get insurance coverage,” he says. “Under this provision, farmers would need to destroy — either mechanically or chemically — the cover crop prior to the head or bud forming for the following crop to be insurable.”

The next concern deals with insurance eligibility if the cover crop is harvested as forage. RMA rules state that once a cover crop is harvested for forage, growers can’t plant and insure crops like corn or soybeans in the same field with yield or revenue protection policies. But check other policies to protect these crops after harvesting cover crops, Bruynis says.

What You Need To Do

Since the insurance situation seems confusing, make sure you know the rules. Have an in-depth conversation about how cover crops may affect insurance eligibility with the folks that write these policies. Maybe it’s time to educate everyone involved in writing crop insurance policies as to the many benefits cover crops offer. Act now, before it’s too late.