US Senators Ask Cover Crop Penalty Leniance This Spring

This is a letter sent a week or so ago by US Senators Lugar and Brown, on behalf of growers in the Midwest, who use cover crops for conservation measures. USDA rules say that cover crops must be terminated by a certain date; but with a record wet spring, the USDA could have penalized farmers for non-compliance. The Senators are asking for flexibility and leniance. Here’s the text of their letter.

For years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been encouraging farmers
to adopt practices that help them uphold their stewardship of the land.
However, we are concerned that farmers who have adopted the best
conservation practices will be penalized for doing so.

As you know, this spring the Midwest has seen unusually persistent wet
weather that has delayed the removal of cover crops and subsequent planting.
Under current RMA guidelines, farmers are not eligible for crop insurance
coverage for their regular cash crop unless the cover crop has been removed
by a set date.  The result is that, through no fault of their own, farmers
who adopted the best conservation practices may not be eligible for crop
insurance.  Given this, we respectfully ask that you provide farmers who are
embracing good conservation practices – and have been unable to remove cover
crops due to the wet weather – with more flexibility to remove their cover
crop and plant their regular cash crop.

We appreciate your recognition of the Midwest’s record-setting rainfall this
year by moving the required cover crop kill date from May 15 to June 1 for
corn and June 10 for soybean planting.  At this time last year, the vast
majority of farmers had already planted their crops in our home states.
Unfortunately, this year has been particularly difficult for many farmers in
the Midwest.  Farmers may be permanently discouraged from using cover crops
in the future, should they have problems obtaining crop insurance this year.

Traditionally, farmers who choose to integrate cover crops in farming
systems have been known to increase their profitability and also improve
local water quality.  Cover crops are providing benefits for farmers by
reducing soil compaction, storing nutrients, and soaking up excess water.
Failing to provide crop insurance to these famers penalizes them for
following good conservation practices and the advice of National Resources
Conservation Services (NRCS).  Cover crops are not preventing farmers from
planting – wet weather is. Some of the only fields that have been planted in
our home states are those where corn or soybeans are planted into a standing
cover crop.

Even in less-than-ideal weather, cover crops help farmers that elect to
plant them.  Research shows that cover crops can increase the yield of cash
crops by improving soil quality and nutrients.  Additionally, in wet years,
cover crops are one of the quickest ways to bring soil moisture to
appropriate levels for planting.  Cover crops reduce nutrient and pesticide
runoff by 50 percent or more, decrease soil erosion by 90 percent, and
increase the rate of water infiltration into soils to circumvent flooding.

These cost-saving conservation efforts benefit our waters from Grand Lake
St. Mary’s to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, generating economic
benefits from tourism, fishing, and recreation.  

By creating such uncertainty with regard to insuring cover crops, it could
threaten to remove this important tool from our conservation toolkit into
the future.  We appreciate your consideration of this request and thank you
for your continued flexibility with our nation’s farmers.

Sherrod Brown, US Senator
Richard G. Lugar, US Senator

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