Many Iowa farmers planted cover crops in the fall of 2012 as a way to create more livestock feeding and forage options for this past winter. However, this spring they will need to terminate those cover crops by May 10 in order to remain eligible for crop insurance. That caution or reminder comes from the Iowa Cattlemen's Association. Some cattle producers also say they'd like to see that deadline extended to allow them to graze or hay the cover crop a little longer in the spring.
"The use of cover crops in Iowa has increased by 20 times over the past three years," says Justine Stevenson, ICA's director of government relations and public policy. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service says about 100,000 acres of cover crops were planted in Iowa in 2012, compared to 5,000 Iowa acres in 2009.
"While NRCS is recommending farmers terminate cover crops two weeks before planting that just doesn't provide enough certainty and direction. You also need to consider the crop insurance rules," Stevenson says. "Iowa is in the St. Paul, Minn. district of USDA's Risk Management Agency. The RMA rules for this district (Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin) specify that if the cover crop hasn't been terminated by May 10, farmers will not be eligible to use the government's crop insurance program on those acres planted to corn, soybeans or other crops this spring and summer -- the former cover crop acres."
Thinking About A Cover Crop? Start With Developing A Plan
Taking time to design your cover crop plan will increase the successful establishment of the crop and potentially allow for improved staggering of fall harvest.
Cattle producers are encouraged to harvest cover crop forage as hay or graze those acres, then terminate the cover crop
"With warmer soil temperatures pushing plant growth on those cover crops, it's also important that they not bud or go to seed before May 10, either, as this may also disqualify the acres for insurance coverage," Stevenson says. "We're encouraging cattle producers to either harvest or graze those acres, and then terminate the growth at least two weeks before May 10 so they can get the agronomic benefits as well as the forage benefit from the crop."
Another rule to note: USDA says in order to insure a spring crop in Iowa, a farmer must not hay, graze or harvest the cover crop after May 10, and the cover crop must be killed before planting the spring crop. Grazing is not considered a form of "terminating the cover crop." Instead, the cover crop either needs to be killed with tillage or with an herbicide treatment that is compatible with the crop to be planted following the cover crop this spring.