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When Cover Crops Will And Won't 'Kill' Your Crop Insurance

With cover crop interest exploding nationwide, NRCS and RMA have been wrestling with how cover crops might void insurance coverage on your main crop.

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

November 21, 2013

3 Min Read

Use of cover crops to reduce runoff and hold soil nitrogen is exploding across the country. Just in the last week, there have been four field days in Pennsylvania and New York focused on the old technology made new.

Broadcasting and interseeding (drilling) cover crops into standing crops raises the issue of when and how cover crops might interfere with primary crop insurability. Because of it, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency have been trying to fine tune guidance definitions. In fact, they've had to address it somewhat differently in all NRCS zones because of the different species mixes.

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The "take away" of the guidelines, according to Gene Gantz, RMA's risk management specialist based in Harrisburg, Pa., is this: "If a cover crop and cash crop are planted in a way that does permit separate agronomic maintenance or management, then RMA will insure the cash crop. However, insurance will not cover loss of production resulting from cover crop interference with the agronomic management and harvest of the main crop."

Cover crop Q & A

To clarify the rules, Farm Progress quizzed Gantz in more detail. His response pertains to NRCS Zone 4, which covers the Northeast from Maine to West Virginia.

FP: Under "definitions of interplanting", it specifically says ". . . with no distinct row pattern". If we interplant with a drill, we'll have a definite row pattern. Will RMA and crop insurance inspectors overlook that wording?

Gantz: "If a cover crop and cash crop are planted in a way that permits separate agronomic maintenance or management, then RMA will insure the cash crop. Broadcasting rye grass into corn later in the season, and following good farming practices usually is insurable.

On the other hand, seeding pumpkins in corn would make the corn uninsurable because you cannot manage the vines.

FP: Interplanting cover crops into corn that's 2- to 3-feet high might not be a problem. But if I interseed several aggressive growing cover crop varieties into soybeans, the cover crop could interfere with soybean harvest. Would my crop insurance be denied in this case?

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Gantz:  If it's determined that yield loss or inability to harvest occurs because of the cover crop, the indemnity will be adjusted to reflect the cover crop's negative impact. In these cases, the question would also be: Was the producer's choice of cover crops a good farming practice?

Remember, crop insurance will not cover loss of production resulting when the cover crop interferes with the agronomic management and harvest of the main crop.

FP:  What if I might try drilling some tillage radish with wheat in the fall to see if it increases wheat yields? Would crop insurance for my wheat be denied?

Gantz: If seeded in rows, it might be insurable. Now, we're in a "gray zone".

Is there convincing research that clearly establishes this is a good cropping practice? If not, it may be declared uninsurable.

I believe RMA is comfortable with cover crops in corn. However, many in our organization consider the interseeding of cover crops and small grains – rye, for instance – into soybeans as experimental until there's good research proving otherwise.

Just deep in mind that insurance won't cover loss of production resulting from the cover crop when it interferes with the agronomic management and harvest of the main crop.

About the Author(s)

John Vogel

Editor, American Agriculturist

For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.

Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.

John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.

John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.

His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.

Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.

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