May 24, 2021

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021 Introduced

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021 Introduced

A bipartisan bill was recently introduced to the Senate by John Thune (R-SD) and Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to ensure farmers can still plant beneficial cover crops after delays due to severe weather prevent them without facing crop insurance penalties.

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021 was inspired by Stabenow and Senator Gary Peters’ (D-MI) 2019 efforts to give flexibility to Michigan farmers after record-setting flooding and wet weather delayed planting. Currently, crop insurance penalizes farmers for planting cover crops that can be used for livestock grazing or animal feed when farmers can’t plant their crops for the season because of bad weather. The bill will permanently lift this restrictive rule and provide certainty if farmers face poor planting conditions again this spring.

“Historic rainfall in 2019 caused many farmers to miss the planting season,” said Senator Stabenow. “When extreme weather gets in the way of planting, farmers aren’t able to grow beneficial cover crops without facing a crop insurance penalty. This commonsense change permanently fixes that problem and is a win for the environment and for farmers.” Thune stated in a press release, “I’m proud to again team up with Senator Stabenow to re-introduce the Cover Crop Flexibility Act, which would remove the November 1 date restriction. This common-sense legislation would help address a barrier to cover crop adaptation and level the playing field for producers in northern states like South Dakota.”

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act is supported by various organizations, such as the National Milk Producers Federation, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, just to name a few. The bill would:

  • Remove a prohibition on grazing or harvesting cover crops for hay or silage and eliminate an arbitrary date that allowed farmers with longer growing seasons more opportunities than those in northern states. Farmers would still have to plant cover crops on approved lists to prevent manipulation of the flexibility and avoid harvesting during the primary nesting season of local birds.
  • Allow USDA to include cover crop seed costs when it sets the factor that is used to calculate the prevented planting indemnity. The current formula only allows USDA to consider pre-planting costs when setting the factor, so the cost of cover crop seed is a potential barrier for farmers who are already facing the effects of a natural disaster.
  • Direct USDA to conduct a study to examine the extent that cover crops reduce risks of prevented planting and other crop insurance losses. If the study finds risk reductions, it allows USDA to adjust prevented planting factors or provide policies with appropriate lower premiums for farmers using cover crops.

Severe weather due to climate change such as wildfires also has a detrimental effect on ranchers and farmers. During the 2020 California wildfires, Dr. Dave Daley, a cattle producer, and animal science expert lost 80% of his cattle. He testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, sharing his expertise and the need for controlling the risk of wildfires through active land management. “As a rancher, and an expert in animal science, I can tell you that the nimblest tool to address dense grasses in the most protective way is to graze these landscapes,” said Daley. With the ever-changing climate and the issues associated, bills like the Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021 and stories such as Dr. Daley’s must be taken seriously to help American farmers and ranchers from devastation.