How Do Cover Crops Affect My Crop Insurance?

February 10, 2023  |  By ForGround by Bayer

Cover crops can co-exist with crops that are insured in the federal crop insurance programs. However, it is important that any crop insurance policy be reviewed and studied for information regarding cover crops use in conjunction with an insured crop. As such, a cover crop is defined as any crop generally recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for erosion control or general soil improvement. The Risk Management Agency (RMA) does not have an approved list of cover crops, but consultation with a local agronomist may be able to provide a recommendation of which species would be best for soil conservation on a particular field or farm. The NRCS Field Office Technical Guide offers general recommendations and guidelines for cover crop types and uses.

Guidelines for Use of Cover Crops

The NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines have been developed with the underlying principle that cover crops provide benefits and farmer flexibility while minimizing the risk to the primary insured crop. The guidelines provide additional information to the producer that may be unfamiliar with cover crops or are implementing innovative cover cropping systems and assurance that the crop is insured and cover cropping management decisions will be considered a good farming practice in accordance with the local NRCS office.

The following options provide an additional assurance and program flexibility:

  1. Use and follow the generalized zonal guidance provided in the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide.
  2. Utilize materials from local extension service that are applicable for the crop and the area that support the cover crop management practice.
  3. If either two of the options above do cover a specific cropping practice an exception can be requested by obtaining a written letter of support by an appropriate agricultural expert following the directions of the Good Farming Practice Determination Standards Handbook.

Keep in mind that if the guidelines are followed it will provide up-front assurance of coverage, BUT it is not required that they be followed to obtain crop insurance as per the changes in the 2018 Farm Bill.

However, if the claim is questioned by the insurance provider as to cover crop management, the insurance provider will complete research to adhere to procedure in order to make an initial decision if good farming practices were followed.

Termination Zones

Termination zones defined in the NRCS guidelines are divided into zones 1-4 in different areas of the country. Zonal guidance can help determine when cover crops should be terminated (before planting, at planting, or before emergence of the cash crop). Additionally, management factors should also play a role in cover crop termination. Cover crops may be best terminated early in drier than normal conditions, or termination can be delayed in wetter than normal conditions or if no-till planting the cash crop. For more information see the NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines. Consult with the local NRCS office for any local guidance.

Planting Into a Covered Crop

Once the cash crop is planted, insurance attaches to the crop. The grower must continue to follow all other provisions for that crop in order to remain in compliance. If two or more crops been planted in the acreage that does not permit separate production or harvest of the insured crop, the cash crop is not insurable. If two or more crops are planted in a manner that does permit separate agronomic maintenance or harvest of the insured crop, then the crop is insurable. As an example, if the cover is seeded into a standing corn crop with a high clearance applicator and any resulting injury caused as a result, would not be covered.

Planting After a Covered Crop is Harvested

If a crop is planted and is harvested, either for grain or seed or forage, after the primary covered crop it is considered a second crop and not a cover crop. Therefore, all the rules for the first covered and second crop will apply.

Resources: Plant cover crops and insure your cash crops. USDA. Conservation practice standard cover crops. USDA-NRCS. NRCS cover crop termination guidelines. USDA-NRCS.

Legal Statements: ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Performance may vary, from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields.

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