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USDA leaves door open for changes in cover crop harvest restrictions to help with impending forage shortage.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

June 11, 2019

5 Min Read
Cover Crop mix USDA.jpg
USDA is offering a $5 reduction in crop insurance premiums for any farmer who planted cover crops during the 2021 season. New report says more policy changes are needed to encourage greater adoption.Photo by Mark Liebig, USDA-ARS

In the wake of millions of prevented planted acres during the wet spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed Monday it will not make Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments on unplanted acres. However, it did leave the door open that cover crops could be harvested and may offer a portion of the MFP payments.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue noted in the coming weeks, USDA will provide information on the Market Facilitation Program payment rates and details of the various components of the disaster relief legislation.

“USDA is not legally authorized to make Market Facilitation Program payments to producers for acreage that is not planted. However, we are exploring legal flexibilities to provide a minimal per acre market facilitation payment to folks who filed prevent plant and chose to plant an MFP-eligible cover crop, with the potential to be harvested and for subsequent use of those cover crops for forage,” Perdue said.

USDA explained that if farmers chose to plant a cover crop with the potential to be harvested because of this year’s adverse weather conditions, they may qualify for a minimal amount of 2019 MFP assistance. USDA noted farmers must still comply with crop insurance requirements to remain eligible for any indemnities received.

Related:Perdue: Don’t let possible trade aid mess with your planting

Many non-specialty crops that also double as potential cover crops are eligible for the 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments this year including alfalfa hay, barley, oats, barley and rye.

In response to the question of whether farmers are prevented from planting but manage to get a cover crop or a forage in the ground, are they able to hay or graze that prior to November 1, given the anticipated forage shortage, USDA encouraged farmers to visit with their crop insurance agent to ensure they are aware of those various prevented planting, cover crop and harvest options for each operation.

“USDA is currently reviewing the prevented planting restrictions in the Federal Crop Insurance Act to determine what options may be available to address this and other issues. Further clarity regarding this haying and grazing date will be forthcoming,” USDA said in a notice to growers.

USDA asked to loosen restrictions

The call for actions to soften the anticipated blow of the forage shortage are continuing.

Last week a multi-state coalition of agricultural organizations submitted a written request to Perdue seeking approval for emergency provisions allowing the planting and harvesting of forages on prevented plant acres without date restrictions.

Related:Trade mitigation program could affect prevented planting

The request from farm bureaus in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, along with the Michigan Cattlemen’s Assn., Dairy Farmers of America and Michigan Milk Producers Ass., comes on the heels of two weather-related extremes in hopes of heading off a “rapidly emerging forage crisis for livestock farmers across the Midwest.”

In addition, Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., led a bipartisan group of their colleagues in urging USDA to expedite the development of the cover crop guidelines that were established in the 2018 Farm Bill. The senators also requested that haying and grazing of cover crops on prevent plant acres be allowed prior to the current USDA-mandated November 1 harvest date.   

The senators believe that November 1 is too late to feasibly graze or mechanically harvest forage crops in most northern states, and it discourages planting soil-protecting cover crops on prevent plant acres in these states because harvesting or grazing prior to November 1 results in a reduction in prevent plant payments. An earlier harvest date would provide more equitable treatment for the thousands of producers who are forced to utilize prevent plant this year and would result in soil-building cover crops on substantially more acres. 

Legislative response

Also this week, Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Angie Craig, D-Minn., introduced the bipartisan Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters Act (FEEDD Act). The FEEDD Act will provide farmers and ranchers additional emergency flexibility to help alleviate feed shortages during planting seasons with high levels of prevent plant due to extreme moisture or drought.

Currently, under the Federal Crop Insurance Program, producers that are unable to plant a crop due to adverse weather conditions are eligible to receive a small indemnity but are prohibited from growing a cash commodity due to a missed window in the growing season. The FEEDD Act would create an emergency waiver authority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow producers to graze, hay or chop a cover crop before November 1st in the event of a feed shortage due to excessive moisture, flood or drought. With this waiver, producers would not have to take a further discount on their crop insurance.

The bill has support from those in the agricultural sector as well.

“As farmers and ranchers across the country struggle through a difficult planting season, I am glad to see this common-sense approach to helping livestock producers and farmers alike through allowing the planting of crops for forage after the prevent plant date. This year so far has been unprecedented for American farmers, and this pragmatic approach allows farmers flexibility in the management of their land, while allowing for livestock forage to be grown,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“This legislation is a helpful response to the feed shortage that dairy farmers have faced this spring due to intense floods,” Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation. “We urge Congress to pass this legislation without delay so that farmers and ranchers have the flexibility they need to navigate current conditions.”

Due to this unusually rainy spring, we are facing the potential for a large number of fields to not be planted, and therefore, it is even more important that producers protect their soil with cover crops over the next year,” said Tim Palmer, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts. “By providing flexibility for when a producer can utilize cover crop plantings, the Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters Act will encourage the adoption of this important conservation practice while adding forage options as an additional economic incentive.”


About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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