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USDA Adjusts Prevent Plant Acres Planted to Cover Crop

Growers can graze or hay cover crop acres beginning September 1.

Farmers who planted cover crops on prevented plant acres will be permitted to hay, graze, or chop those fields September 1, 2019. The USDA’s Risk Management Agency adjusted the 2019 final haying and grazing date to help farmers who were prevented from planting because of flooding and excess rainfall this spring. 

This is a one-year adjustment, said RMA Administrator Martin Barbre in a statement distributed today. “RMA will evaluate the prudence of a permanent adjustment moving forward,” Barbre added. 

USDA anticipates many farmers and ranchers will plant cover crops on prevent-plant acres in 2019. Some lawmakers had proposed that cover crop acres be used for feed purposes later this year. U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Angie Craig (D-MN) introduced legislation on June 10 that would give farmers and ranchers flexibility to use these cover crops for feed, in case of a feed shortage due to excessive moisture, flood, or drought. 

The representatives received broad industry support from the National Association of Conservation Districts, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and National Milk Producers Federation. Other lawmakers, including Senators John Thune (R-SD), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) supported similar measures.  

The Johnson-and-Craig-sponsored bill has not yet passed the House of Representatives. 

But today’s announcement addresses many of the lawmakers’ concerns.

“We recognize farmers were greatly impacted by some of the unprecedented flooding and excessive rain this spring, and we made this one-year adjustment to help farmers with the tough decisions they are facing this year,” said Bill Northey, undersecretary for farm production and conservation in a statement. “This change will make good stewardship of the land easier to accomplish while also providing an opportunity to ensure quality forage is available for livestock this fall.” 

RMA has also determined that silage, haylage, and baleage should be treated in the same manner as haying and grazing for this year. Producers can hay, graze, or cut cover crops for silage, haylage, or baleage on prevented plant acres on or after September 1 and still maintain eligibility for their full 2019 prevented planting indemnity.

Triple Dipping?

However, some pundits believe the decision could lead to unintended consequences. 

Scott Irwin, agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, outlines a scenario in which farmers could get income three ways from taking the prevent-plant provision:

  1. Collect the prevent-plant indemnity and not plant corn or soybeans.
  2. Plant a cover crop to be hayed, ensiled, or baled after September 1, and subsequently fed or sold as livestock feed.
  3. Collect a Market Facilitation Payment. 

The USDA has suggested that preventpplant acres will not be eligible for the MFP 2 payments, but Irwin isn’t convinced. “I strongly believe that one way or another, the same prevent-plant acres will get some kind of MFP 2 payment,” he says. 

The economist says RMA’s action could make prevent plant more attractive to farmers located near dairy farms or cattle feedlots. “The value is in areas that need forage, and can chop, bale, or hay a cover crop and either feed it themselves or sell to someone who needs it,” he says. “In those areas, it makes prevent plant more attractive today than yesterday.” 

Industry Reaction

Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association from Sweetwater, Tennessee, says her organization appreciates the work from RMA and the lawmakers who initially fought for the deadline change.  

“When disaster strikes, it is good to know that livestock producers have strong allies in Washington. Today’s move by USDA will provide much-needed relief for hardworking farmers and ranchers trying to recover from this year’s planting season. NCBA worked closely with both USDA and Congress to get this change across the finish line,” says Houston. 

The Iowa Cattlemen's Association also had been seeking more flexibility for cover crops used in prevent-plant scenarios. “ICA and its members are appreciative that RMA responded to the concerns of cattle producers in Iowa,” says Matt Deppe, CEO of the ICA. “The adjusted timeline provides much more flexibility and forage for cattlemen this fall.”

The dairy industry also supports the move. Mitch Davis, treasurer of the Edge Dairy Cooperative and general manager of Davis Family Dairies in south-central Minnesota, said in a statement: “The wet spring has made the risk of a shortage of livestock feed for the coming year very real for many of our dairy farmers throughout the Midwest who are struggling to get a crop in. This will give all livestock producers options to deal with the extraordinary conditions.The decision-makers at USDA and the many lawmakers who pressed this issue deserve much credit for listening to our farmers and recognizing the unique challenges they’re facing this growing season.”  

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