But for those of you who have crop insurance policies, you may have found trying to get your cover crop program in harmony with federal rules has been a bumpy ride.

But there have been some changes recently. The Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Risk Management Agency (RMA) have updated termination and reporting guidelines for cover crops, according to a December 2016 USDA Bulletin. To view the zones and additional guidelines, www.nrcs.usda.gov and click “Cover Crop Termination Guidelines.”

Here are some highlights:

  • 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, the USDA says. 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. 

  • A cover crop managed and terminated according to NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines isn’t 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. 

Ryan Stockwell, senior agriculture program manager for the National Wildlife Federation, says it’s 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 in 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.”

The rules certainly aren’t perfect, and Stockwell rightly points out that covers are 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.”

But I certainly hope enough of these conflicts with crop insurance have been minimized that it’s not stopping too many no-tillers from at least experimenting with covers. If crop insurance rules are causing you to avoid seeding covers, I’d like to know about it: feel free to send me an e-mail.