Ag Policy Blog

Cover Crop Legislation and RMA on Levees

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Legislation introduced Thursday by key senators would allow earlier haying and grazing of cover crops. Last year, USDA allowed early haying and grazing due to the loss of hay acres, but that was just a one-time situation. The bill would permanently move those dates earlier. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

Some days, one major event overwhelms all other news coming across the email. The market reaction Thursday to COVID-19 was one of those days, as stocks had their worst single day since 1987 -- hard to fathom -- and pulled down virtually all commodities with them.

So the emails highlighting topics surrounding hemp, comments on the Packers and Stockyards rule, and a U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on agricultural biotechnology all get set aside to deal with the major news of the moment.

Here are a couple of items from Thursday that producers may want to follow:

Cover Crops Flexibility Act

Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., on Thursday introduced the Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020 (S. 3479) to permanently remove the prohibition on harvesting or grazing cover crops on prevented plant acres prior to November 1.

“Last year, given the harsh growing conditions, which led to nearly 4 million prevented plant acres in South Dakota, I met with leaders at USDA to strongly encourage them to move up the administratively mandated harvesting and grazing date,” Thune said. “While this short-term fix was necessary and welcome relief to many South Dakota producers, it was only that – a short-term fix. This common-sense legislation would permanently remove the date restriction, which would help level the playing field and give our producers the certainty they need as they prepare for another potentially difficult year.”

Stabenow added, “Planting cover crops is one of the best ways farmers can improve their land and address the climate crisis. When bad weather causes farmers to miss planting season like we saw in Michigan last spring, it makes sense to help them get the best use out of their land. Improving crop insurance to encourage cover cropping will lead to less erosion and healthier soil that pulls carbon out of the air and stores it in the ground.”

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020 would:

-Remove a prohibition on grazing or harvesting cover crops for hay or silage and eliminate an arbitrary date that allowed farmers with longer growing seasons more opportunities than those in northern states. Farmers would still have to plant cover crops on approved lists to prevent manipulation of the flexibility and avoid harvesting during the primary nesting season of local birds.

-Allow USDA to include cover crop seed and grazing-related costs when it sets the factor that is used to calculate the prevented planting indemnity. The current formula only allows USDA to consider pre-planting costs when setting the factor, so the cost of cover crop seed and grazing are a potential barrier for farmers who are already facing the effects of a natural disaster.

-Direct USDA to conduct a study to examine the extent that cover crops reduce risks of prevented planting and other crop insurance losses. If the study finds risk reductions, it allows USDA to adjust prevented planting factors or provide policies with appropriate lower premiums for farmers using cover crops.

The bill is backed not just by a long list of agricultural groups, but also several conservation, environmental and wildlife groups as well.

RMA Working to Reduce Crop Insurance Rates in Breached Levee Areas

As DTN (and yours truly) reported on Monday, farmers in southwest Iowa last Friday showed crop insurance officials some of the levee repairs happening as a driver to help USDA's Risk Management Agency to understand the protection levels these farmers will have for 2020.…

RMA on Thursday issued a news release to remind farmers that levee breaches from 2019 may impact their crop insurance options for 2020. It's a somewhat late release, given farmers have until Monday to choose their crop-insurance coverage for spring crops.

RMA noted, “Last spring and summer’s flooding caused more than 200 levee breaches on over 100 levee systems in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Many of those levees are in the process of being repaired, but cropland behind levees that are not repaired to prior specifications may carry the highest premium rate classification in the county for the 2020 crop year.”

While several states were hit, RMA's news release noted this affects farmers in 27 Missouri counties, by far the most of any state impacted.

“RMA is committed to helping farmers during this tough time,” said RMA Administrator Martin Barbre. “We added flexibility this year by adjusting premium rates if levee repairs are completed and certified before the Sales Closing Date or Earliest Planting Date.”

The nut graph here is that RMA stated it "also will consider premium rate adjustments for farmers in counties where levees have been temporarily or partially repaired before the Sales Closing Date or Earliest Planting Date if the repairs are certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) or, if applicable, by a state-licensed and registered engineer. RMA will adjust the premium rate according to the level of protection the levee repair provides as indicated in the certification. However, if the repair is completed after those dates but before the crop is planted, producers can work with their insurance agents to submit a Written Agreement Request to their regional office, which will make premium rate determinations on a case-by-case basis."

RMA stated that 179,874 acres of land are now better protected and have reduced crop insurance rates due to USACE certifications and RMA rate adjustments.

Farmers in counties with levee breaches should contact their crop insurance agent for information and to discuss options. The counties affected include:

-Illinois – Alexander, Madison and Randolph;

-Iowa – Fremont, Mills and Pottawattamie;

-Kansas – Atchison, Doniphan, Leavenworth and Wyandotte;

-Missouri – Atchison, Boone, Buchanan, Callaway, Carroll, Chariton, Clark, Cole, Cooper, Franklin, Gasconade, Holt, Howard, Jackson, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Moniteau, Osage, Pike, Platte, Ray, Saline, St. Charles, St. Genevieve, St. Louis and Warren;

-Nebraska – Nemaha and Otoe.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN



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