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Terminating Cover Crops, It's Just A Matter Of TimeTerminating Cover Crops, It's Just A Matter Of Time

To stay eligible for crop insurance coverage on corn or soybeans following a cover crop, you need to kill the cover by May 10.

Rod Swoboda 1

April 5, 2013

5 Min Read

Many Iowa farmers planted cover crops in the fall of 2012 as a way to create more livestock feeding and forage options for this past winter. However, this spring they will need to terminate those cover crops by May 10 in order to remain eligible for crop insurance. That caution or reminder comes from the Iowa Cattlemen's Association. Some cattle producers also say they'd like to see that deadline extended to allow them to graze or hay the cover crop a little longer in the spring.


"The use of cover crops in Iowa has increased by 20 times over the past three years," says Justine Stevenson, ICA's director of government relations and public policy. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service says about 100,000 acres of cover crops were planted in Iowa in 2012, compared to 5,000 Iowa acres in 2009.

"While NRCS is recommending farmers terminate cover crops two weeks before planting that just doesn't provide enough certainty and direction. You also need to consider the crop insurance rules," Stevenson says. "Iowa is in the St. Paul, Minn. district of USDA's Risk Management Agency. The RMA rules for this district (Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin) specify that if the cover crop hasn't been terminated by May 10, farmers will not be eligible to use the government's crop insurance program on those acres planted to corn, soybeans or other crops this spring and summer -- the former cover crop acres."


Thinking About A Cover Crop? Start With Developing A Plan
Taking time to design your cover crop plan will increase the successful establishment of the crop and potentially allow for improved staggering of fall harvest.


Cattle producers are encouraged to harvest cover crop forage as hay or graze those acres, then terminate the cover crop
"With warmer soil temperatures pushing plant growth on those cover crops, it's also important that they not bud or go to seed before May 10, either, as this may also disqualify the acres for insurance coverage," Stevenson says. "We're encouraging cattle producers to either harvest or graze those acres, and then terminate the growth at least two weeks before May 10 so they can get the agronomic benefits as well as the forage benefit from the crop."

Another rule to note: USDA says in order to insure a spring crop in Iowa, a farmer must not hay, graze or harvest the cover crop after May 10, and the cover crop must be killed before planting the spring crop. Grazing is not considered a form of "terminating the cover crop." Instead, the cover crop either needs to be killed with tillage or with an herbicide treatment that is compatible with the crop to be planted following the cover crop this spring.


Best bet is to talk with your local NRCS office or with your crop insurance agent for detailed information or if you have questions.

How do you validate that you've terminated a cover crop by May 10?
RMA officials say they want producers to have the ability to use cover crops and still be able to get crop insurance on the corn and beans planted following the cover crop. The May 10 deadline is based on the cropping season for the Upper Midwest. Different regions have different deadlines. Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska, for example, have deadlines that are a little later than the deadline for Iowa.

There are different methods to terminate a cover crop -- tillage or herbicide application are two of them. Also, how do you validate that you have terminated a cover crop by May 10? Livestock producers want to be able to use the cover crop for forage as long as possible, but being able to hay or graze those acres is not considered a technique for termination. "So cattle producers after they hay or graze the cover crop will either need to disk the soil or spray the field with some type of herbicide that is compatible with the second crop that will be planted," notes Stevenson, who has talked to RMA officials about this issue.

So what is the verification process? Your crop insurance company will need to know the date when you terminate the cover crop. They'll want to know that you did indeed get it terminated prior to May 10. To provide that information, you should contact your crop insurance agent when you terminate your cover crop, says Stevenson.

Cattle producers would like to see RMA extend termination deadline past May 10
There is also another issue being raised. Some cattle producers want RMA to extend that termination deadline date past May 10. Because of the continuing drought and a reduced hay crop last year, not much forage has been available for grazing. Hay is in short supply and prices are high. It would help livestock producers if they could keep these cover crops around a little longer in the spring to use them for haying or grazing.


Thinking About A Cover Crop? Start With Developing A Plan
Taking time to design your cover crop plan will increase the successful establishment of the crop and potentially allow for improved staggering of fall harvest.


As a soil conservation practice that also helps protect water quality by reducing runoff from corn and soybean fields, cover crops have the potential to be used on a lot more acreage in the state of Iowa. Cover crops are a soil conservation practice that is recommended as part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Cover crops are one of the management techniques that actually reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from fields.

Being able to provide the soil conservation and water quality benefits gives more producers an incentive to plant more cover crops. So would USDA/RMA extending the cover crop termination deadline, or allowing farmers to hay or graze those acres a little longer. That would be beneficial to Iowa producers. But for now, May 10 is the deadline to terminate those cover crops if you are in Iowa, Minnesota or Wisconsin.

About the Author(s)

Rod Swoboda 1

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Rod, who has been a member of the editorial staff of Wallaces Farmer magazine since 1976, was appointed editor of the magazine in April 2003. He is widely recognized around the state, especially for his articles on crop production and soil conservation topics, and has won several writing awards, in addition to honors from farm, commodity and conservation organizations.

"As only the tenth person to hold the position of Wallaces Farmer editor in the past 100 years, I take seriously my responsibility to provide readers with timely articles useful to them in their farming operations," Rod says.

Raised on a farm that is still owned and operated by his family, Rod enjoys writing and interviewing farmers and others involved in agriculture, as well as planning and editing the magazine. You can also find Rod at other Farm Progress Company activities where he has responsibilities associated with the magazine, including hosting the Farm Progress Show, Farm Progress Hay Expo and the Iowa Master Farmer program.

A University of Illinois grad with a Bachelors of Science degree in agriculture (ag journalism major), Rod joined Wallaces Farmer after working several years in Washington D.C. as a writer for Farm Business Incorporated.

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