While it’s clear cover crops have plenty to offer in revitalizing farms on the Great Plains, there is still a lot of apprehension among growers about how covers might affect crop insurance eligibility in those fields.

Earlier this year, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) anonymously surveyed farmers to better understand the impacts of recent changes to crop insurance, and how the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and crop-insurance companies are handling the cover-crop issue.

While the results are still being analyzed, NWF senior ag program manager Ryan Stockwell shared a couple of interesting tidbits from the survey:

  • Of farmers who don’t use cover crops, 45% say they’re hesitant because they’re concerned about complications with crop insurance. That was followed by not having access to the right seeding equipment (30%) and not being comfortable with managing covers (27%).
  • When asked, “Have you ever been told by a crop insurance agent or adjuster that cover crops may put a claim at risk of denial?” nearly 34% of growers answered “Yes.”

Acknowledging that some federal agencies were actively incentivizing farmers to seed covers, and other agencies were punishing farmers for doing so, the RMA, USDA and NRCS — along with the NWF and other ag stakeholders — convened a task force in 2013 to make changes to the government’s guidelines on management and termination of cover crops.

The latest available document from the RMA can be found here.

Stockwell notes a change in the language for this year’s guidelines pertaining to planting a cover crop into an insured crop before physiological maturity of the insured crop.

Language was removed that refers to physiological maturity, he says, and was replaced with language stipulating that covers may be planted into an insured crop as long as the insured crop may be separately managed and harvested, and producers have evidence of success of the earlier cover-crop planting. Any losses caused by the planting of the cover crop will not be insured.

Below are two key questions in the RMA’s question-and-answer portion of the guidelines:

Q: Will over-seeding/interseeding a conservation cover crop into an insured grain crop affect insurability?

A: No, as long as the cover crop is seeded at a time that will not impact the yield or harvest of the insured crop. If there was any damage caused by over-seeding the cover crop, uninsured cause-of-loss appraisals would be applied to the insured crop. With respect to cover crops, overseeding and interseeding can be defined as planting one or more cover crop species into an existing or established crop.

Q: Will inter-planting a conservation cover crop into an insured grain crop affect insurability?

A: No, unless prohibited by your crop insurance policy or crop provision. If the cover crop and a cash crop are planted in a way that permits separate agronomic maintenance or management, then the cash crop may be insurable. However, the cash crop is not insurable if the cover crop that is interplanted into a cash crop interferes with the agronomic management and the harvest of the cash crop.

“One key point to add is that the summerfallow rule on covers — covers must be terminated a full year before planting an insured summer fallow crop — still applies,” Stockwell says. “The summerfallow rule doesn’t have any unique rules regarding planting a cover crop into an insured crop.

“These cover crop-only rules create avenues for which insurers may deny a claim or deny coverage,” he adds. “Before a farmer starts planting covers into an insured crop, I would recommend they have some data from their own farm, or from a research institution in the region, to justify the practice in the event the coverage or a claim is denied and a farmer is dragged through the good-farming-practice review process.”

Have you had a run-in with your crop-insurance agent about cover crops you added to your farm, or would like to add? Or do you have a question about what you should do? Please send me an e-mail and let me know, and perhaps I can find an answer for you.