By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program
With many farmers in Ohio unable to plant before the Final Planting Date for crop insurance, questions are arising about planting and harvesting cover crops on those prevented planting acres. USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) rules allow operators to plant cover crops on prevented planting acres and to hay, graze, or cut the cover crops for silage after the posted “harvest date.” In previous years, the harvest date for cover crops was Nov. 1. If an operator harvested the cover crop before that date, the prevented plant payment would be reduced from 100% to 35%.
The RMA has changed the harvest date for 2019, however. In response to reduced livestock feed supplies that will result from the loss of planted acres this year, the RMA has moved up the cover crop harvest date to September 1. An operator who plants a cover crop after the Final Planting Date and then cuts the crop for forage on or after Sept. 1 can still receive 100% of the prevented plant payment, even if the operator sells the forage and regardless of whether the operator planted the cover crop during or after the Late Planting Period. The Final Planting Date in Ohio was June 5 for corn and June 20 for soybeans; the Late Planting Period ended on June 20 for corn and runs until July 15 for soybeans. Note, too, that a cover crop that was in the ground before the Final Planting Date but was not terminated because the operator couldn’t plant the intended corn or soybean crop can also be harvested for forage on or after Sept. 1.
The RMA’s chart below illustrates payment scenarios for cover crops planted and harvested on prevented planting acres.
Other requirements for cover crops
While the cover crop harvest date seems pretty straightforward, don’t be fooled — crop insurance provisions can be tricky. Farmers planning to put out cover crops on prevented plant acres should work closely with their crop insurance agents to ensure that all policy provisions and documentation requirements are met.
An initial requirement is that the cover crop planted must meet the definition of an “acceptable cover crop” for crop insurance purposes. The RMA considers an acceptable cover crop as one that is recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement and planted at the recommended seeding rate. OSU agricultural experts can help provide guidance on acceptable cover crops.
Operators should also be aware that many seed licenses, particularly for bio-engineered seeds, restrict the use of the seed to grain production only. In those situations, planting the seed for a cover crop or harvesting it for silage would violate the seed licensing contract and create a liability situation for the operator.
Additionally, note that crop insurance provisions prohibit harvesting the cover crop for grain or seed, and an operator who does so will lose all of the prevented plant payment. The cover crop harvest can also impact other provisions, such as the farm’s Actual Production History (APH) yields. These and other provisions highlight the importance of a close working arrangement with the crop insurance agent in order to comply with RMA’s cover crop provisions.