Cover Crop Termination Guidelines Revised for Crop Insurance

Cover Crop Termination Guidelines Revised for Crop Insurance

As farmers expand cover crop acreage, the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Farm Service Agency (FSA) have developed USDA-wide cover crop management and termination guidelines.

The NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines, first published in June 2013 and revised in December 2013, are applicable across all USDA programs. The guidelines reflect evolving cover crop practices, making rules more consistent, simple, and flexible.  The purpose of this article is to help producers see how the new guidelines fit into Nebraska crop insurance provisions.

NRCS US map of cover crop termination dates

Figure 1. Cover crop termination zones to meet USDA Risk Management Agency Guidelines, as of December 2013. (Source: Natural Resource Conservation Service; see full source)

What is a Cover Crop? 

For purposes of insurance, RMA defines it as "a crop generally recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement."  Such purposes might include reduced soil erosion, increased soil organic matter, better weed control, nitrogen production if a legume is used, and improved soil water management.

RMA Changes

With the exception of its summerfallow practice (available for some crops in western Nebraska), RMA has always permitted the use of cover crops prior to planting of the insured crop.  In the past, RMA has required the termination of the cover crops at a certain stage of growth to preserve needed soil water for the following insured crop.  

Starting with the 2014 crop year, however, RMA has dropped the stage of growth termination requirement and has instead incorporated the NRCS Guidelines into its insurance provisions (with exception of the summerfallow practice).  The NRCS Guidelines vary by region (Figure 1) as to when the cover crop must be terminated in relation to planting the insured crop.  From an insurance standpoint, RMA is  concerned that the cover crop should not increase the probability of lower yields and hence the likelihood of an insurance payment. 

Cover Crop Management Zones

To minimize such chances, the NRCS Guidelines designated four management zones across the nation, each with their own cover crop termination rules in relation to the planting date of the insured crop (Figure 1).  Nebraska is covered by zones 2 and 3.

Roughly the western two-thirds of Nebraska is in zone 2, which requires:

  • Late spring- to fall-seeded insured crops require cover crop termination at least 15 days prior to planting the insured crop. Insured crops which are early spring-seeded require cover crop termination as soon as practical prior to planting the insured crop.
  • With RMA's summerfallow practice, cover crops were not permitted for the 2014 crop year.  If a cover crop is planted on summerfallow acreage in a fallow year, the crop planted after the cover crop will not meet the summerfallow practice definition until the acres lie fallow for a full crop year.  It is uncertain if this restriction on cover crops will continue in the upcoming 2015 crop year. 

The eastern third of Nebraska falls in zone 3, which requires

  • The cover crop to be terminated at or before planting of the insured crop, regardless of whether the insured crop is seeded in late spring, early fall, or in early spring. If the cover crop is not terminated in a timely fashion, the following crop will be considered as a double crop, which makes it ineligible for insurance in Nebraska. That is, insurance would not attach to the commercial crop if the cover crop is not terminated in accordance with these guidelines.

Check RMA's Frequently Asked Questions on cover crops and crop insurance for more information on the issues discussed here.

As always, producers should consult the actuarial documents for their insured crop to understand the rules and regulations concerning crop insurance and cover crops, and meet with their crop insurance agent to addess any questions they may have.  

We also strongly advise producers to read the NRCS Guidelines, and consult with their local NRCS office to fully understand the management and termination guidelines for cover crops.


As always, producers should consult with their crop insurance agents to get detailed rules for their county and crops.

Monte Vandeveer
Extension Educator
Cory Walters
Extension Crop Economist

March 20, 2014

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