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Farm Programs Should Reward Not Penalize Soil Health

An appeal to the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) system by Kansas farmer Gail Fuller – who is recognized by USDA NRCS and the American Soybean Association for his commitment to conservation – highlights the importance of aligning insurance policies with agronomic and environmental efforts.

Fuller’s 2012 crop insurance coverage was revoked because weather conditions prevented him from timely burndown of his cover crops. That left him in violation of RMA’s rules that don't allow cover crops to form seedheads.

The good news for 2013 is that, in Gail Fuller’s region, if the same events play out farmers won't lose crop insurance. RMA is adapting its policies to reflect the art and science of cover crop management.

Unfortunately it’s not easy. RMA has to make the complex biology of cover crops fit into actuarial tables. The challenge is to develop rules without making them too complicated to implement.

Fortunately, conservation farming advocates like No-till on the Plains, the Midwest Cover Crops Council, and other leading cover crop growers have teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation to work with various USDA agencies to reconcile insurance policies with sound science.

CTIC has worked for years to help farmers develop cover crop systems that help reduce erosion, build soil, and ultimately reduce the impacts of drought or excessive rainfall.We applaud RMA efforts to fine-tune its policies to encourage cover cropping, to remove a barrier for farmers who want cover crops to help build their soils.

Karen A. Scanlon

Executive director

Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC)

West Lafayette, Ind.


Many farmers continue to learn the benefits that cover crops provide a biological method to manage moisture, nutrients and soil health. Unfortunately, in some situations, farmers who implemented cover crops lost crop insurance coverage because policies designed to address other crop insurance issues were not designed with cover crops in mind. 

I’m struck by the irony of Gail Fuller, an Emporia, Kan., producer – who achieved the 2013 ASA Conservation Legacy Award for his use of cover crops – lost his crop insurance coverage in 2012 due to his cover crops.

To be clear, cover crops are a great tool to increase soil health and crop yields, but they cannot work miracles. Last year’s drought impacted everyone, regardless of practices. No-till on the Plains and other organizations are working with scientists to educate NRCS, FSA and RMA so that producers are not penalized but eventually rewarded for their good management practices with lower premiums. Numerous research studies show that cover crops not only increase average yields, but also reduce extreme weather risk.

Fortunately, RMA has already changed several rules for the 2013 crop season, to provide growers with more flexibility to implement and manage cover crops, as a valuable agronomic tool.

Please be sure to talk with your insurance agent about the special provisions for cover crop use. The new provisions are much improved and provide a solid first step toward better long-term policies.


Brian Lindley

Executive director

No-Till on the Plains


For information and questions about cover crops and crop insurance, the RMA has an FAQ page on their website.


Corn & Soybean Digest welcomes your letters. Please send them to [email protected] or Editor, Corn & Soybean Digest, 7900 International Drive, #650, Minneapolis, MN 55425.

TAGS: Conservation
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