Cover Crops and Crop Insurance Requirements in Nebraska for 2013

Cover Crops and Crop Insurance Requirements in Nebraska for 2013

After the severe losses in forage production from the 2012 drought, Nebraska cover crop growers have a special opportunity to hay or graze these crops without endangering crop insurance coverage for their 2013 corn, soybeans, and grain sorghum.
Nebraska RMA east-west cover crop map

Figure 1. 2013 Nebraska Cover Crop Designations for western and eastern Nebraska. (Source: Risk Management Agency, Topeka Field Office.)(Links to larger map.)

The Topeka regional office of USDA's Risk Management Agency, which oversees crop insurance operations for Nebraska, has announced some special provisions for haying or grazing cover crops on Nebraska farmland which will later be planted to spring row crops. The purpose of these two special provisions is to increase forage supplies after last year's drought, provided that this does not increase the chance of loss on the insured crops planted later this spring. The intent of the rules is to see that the haying or grazing of the cover crop does not deplete soil moisture or shorten the growing season of the regular spring crop in ways that would reduce its yield.

Specifically, the rules state that the cover crop must be terminated

  1. before it reaches a critical stage of maturity (defined differently below for eastern and western Nebraska), and
  2. so that use of the cover crop does not result in prevented planting to the regular spring crop.

Cover crops may be grown and their forage used for haying or grazing prior to reaching either of these points. If these conditions are violated, insurance coverage will not attach to the regular crop planted later in the spring.

The "critical stage of maturity" in the first provision is defined differently in eastern and western Nebraska (Figure 1), with western Nebraska having an earlier termination point. In eastern Nebraska, cover crops may be allowed to grow until 50% of the field has headed or budded, while in western Nebraska, the cover crop must be terminated before heading or budding occurs. If the cover crop is not destroyed before it reaches this critical stage, the regular crop planted later will not be insured.

RMA's definition of a cover crop is "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." A perennial hay crop just harvested does not count as a cover crop in this case. Also, inter-planting (the practice of planting the main crop into the living cover crop) is not permitted; the cover crop must be terminated before the insured crop is planted for the crop insurance coverage to attach.

As always, producers should check with their crop insurance agent to get details on dates and suitable practices for their locale. The Topeka regional office of RMA has a fact sheet which provides more details about cover crops and insurance coverage entitled, Insuring Crops Planted Following a Cover Crop.

Monte Vandeveer
Extension Educator, Otoe County