By Matt Perdue, NFU Government Relations Representative

Previous Climate Column posts have discussed how cover crops help farmers and ranchers adapt to and mitigate climate change. Planting cover crops can improve soil health and water quality, optimize water use, increase productivity, decrease input costs, and reduce carbon emissions.

As cover crops grow in popularity, it’s crucial to understand how the practice may affect a farm’s crop insurance coverage. The Risk Management Agency (RMA) requires farmers to terminate cover crops within a predetermined window in order for the following year’s cash crop to be insurable. RMA has divided the country into four separate Cover Crop Termination Zones, each with its own requirement. In zones one and two, termination is required 35 and 15 days before planting, respectively. Many farmers are unable to apply burndown herbicides so early in the spring, creating a barrier to those wishing to plant fall cover crops.

Farmers interested in interseeding a cover crop with a row crop, such as corn or soybeans, have additional crop insurance considerations. RMA requires cover crops and cash crops to be planted in a way that permits separate agronomic maintenance. RMA also requires that interseeding be done without damaging the cash crop, making the planting window for the cash crop very narrow.

Cover crops are an important tool for farmers and ranchers seeking to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects. A recent study indicates that cover crops can reduce carbon emissions by 100-150 grams of carbon per square meter per year. Cover crops can also reduce soil erosion from extreme rain events, increase soil water management during droughts or periods of soil saturation, and improve nitrogen retention. These factors increase yields and reduce fertilizer and herbicide needs, improving farm profitability.

As farmers consider planting cover crops, it’s important to consult with local Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) and RMA officials on how to best implement the practice and how crop insurance may be affected.

Do you plant cover crops on your farm? Have crop insurance or other issues prevented you from planting cover crops? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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