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Crop Insurance Rules for Cover Crops

Kevin Glanz had planted cereal rye into soybean stubble on his farm near Manchester, Iowa, for four years when he decided to try something new in 2016. At trade shows in Minnesota, he learned of farmers’ success interseeding cover crops into standing corn in early summer. So last year, he decided he’d try a mix that included legumes and brassicas. He would have his co-op seed the cover while applying urea to his corn at the five- to six-leaf stage. The cover would have time to get established before going dormant under the corn canopy.

It seemed like a good plan, until he told his crop insurance agent about it on March 30, 2016. Within hours, his crop insurance company threatened to void his coverage. “I got no help from my insurance agent. He sided with the company,” recalls Glanz.

Glanz was caught in apparent confusion in the industry about changes in the USDA Risk Management Agency’s rules for good farming practices with cover crops. Cover crops had to be seeded after the insured crop reached physiological maturity until 2014, when RMA revised its rules to allow earlier planting “as long as the cover crop is seeded at a time that will not impact the yield or harvest of the insured crop.”

Glanz went ahead with his plans. He got support from the regional RMA office in Minneapolis, which contacted his insurer. But he had to endure a “quality control audit” of three visits to his farm and detailed record keeping of herbicide treatments. All the while, he risked a protracted dispute with his insurer if he had a crop-loss claim. He didn’t. "It basically boiled down to no claim, no problem,” he says.

Sarah Carlson, Midwest cover crop director for Practical Farmers of Iowa, says not all crop insurers accept RMA rules on earlier seeding. “RMA says this is OK, and the science says this is OK.” In the Midwest, 15 days after planting the corn or soybeans seem to be enough of a head start before seeding cover crops, and the earliest farmers are trying it at about 30 days after planting, she says. “It’s the industry that’s not following the rules.”

She advises farmers who plant cover crops to check with their insurance agent before trying new practices. Meanwhile, Glanz is looking for a different crop insurer.

Click here for more details on cover crop practices recommended by RMA.



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