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New Guidelines for Cover Crop Termination Affects Crop Insurance

April 22nd, 2014

Contributed by Steven D. JohnsonFarm Management Specialist, Iowa State University Extension, sdjohns@iastate.edu, 515-957-5790

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If you planted a cover crop last fall and need to terminate it this spring in fields that will be planted to corn or soybeans, when should you kill the cover crop? Timing for termination of a cover crop can affect whether the crop insurance coverage attaches for the corn and soybean crop yet to be planted.

The USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) has issued new guidelines for cover crop termination in 2014 that are slightly different from last year.  RMA officials made these changes after meeting with officials from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Through the interagency working group a consistent and flexible cover crop policy can be applied across all USDA agencies.

With the new guidelines farmers can hopefully obtain the conservation benefits of cover crops while minimizing risk of reducing yield to the following crop due to soil water use.

The NRCS Guidelines for 2014 use four strategic management zones across the nation. Iowa has two of those zones. As the accompanying map shows, about a third of Iowa (western portion) is in Zone 3, while the rest of Iowa is in Zone 4.

If you are in Zone 3, you must terminate the cover crop at or before planting the subsequent crop, which is likely corn or soybeans. In Zone 4, the rest of Iowa, you must terminate the cover crop at or within 5 days after planting the subsequent crop if you want the subsequent crop to be insured.

cover crop termination zones 2014

Termination is not about a date; it’s about when you are going to plant the subsequent corn or soybean crop.  The cover crop, if it is not 100% destroyed, will compete with corn or soybeans for moisture in the soil. That’s the reason for the different zones.

Termination means growth has ended for 100% of the cover crop in the field. These NRCS Guidelines basically state that you have to terminate growth of the cover crop before crop insurance coverage attaches to the corn or soybean crop you plant in that field.

You can still graze or hay a cover crop, but crop insurance will not attach to the crop following a cover crop if termination of the cover crop is not done according to these new guidelines. The key is you want to kill the cover crop if you want the crop insurance coverage to attach. Contact your crop insurance agent if you have questions. The 2014 Cover Crops Crop Insurance and NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines FAQs are at: http://www.rma.usda.gov/help/faq/covercrops2014.html.

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