Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced the Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020 (S. 3479) to permanently remove the prohibition on harvesting or grazing cover crops on prevented plant acres prior to November 1.

“Last year, given the harsh growing conditions, which led to nearly 4 million prevented plant acres in South Dakota, I met with leaders at USDA to strongly encourage them to move up the administratively mandated harvesting and grazing date,” said Thune. “While this short-term fix was necessary and welcome relief to many South Dakota producers, it was only that – a short-term fix. This common-sense legislation would permanently remove the date restriction, which would help level the playing field and give our producers the certainty they need as they prepare for another potentially difficult year.”

“Planting cover crops is one of the best ways farmers can improve their land and address the climate crisis,” said Stabenow. “When bad weather causes farmers to miss planting season like we saw in Michigan last spring, it makes sense to help them get the best use out of their land. Improving crop insurance to encourage cover cropping will lead to less erosion and healthier soil that pulls carbon out of the air and stores it in the ground.”

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020 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 and grazing-related 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 and grazing are 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.

“A strong crop insurance safety net is even more important as climate change makes extreme and variable weather events like the record-setting rainfall in 2019 more frequent,” said Calalie Eideberg, director of agricultural policy and special projects at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“The Cover Crop Flexibility Act would allow farmers to recoup some economic losses in devastating weather years and increase their climate resilience for future planting seasons. It would lay the groundwork for federal crop insurance to reward farmers for conservation actions, such as planting cover crops, that are proven to reduce risk, as well as improve soil health and water quality,” Eideberg said. “We welcome this bipartisan effort to update and strengthen a critical risk management tool by incentivizing climate-smart farming practices.”

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020 is supported by the National Milk Producers Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, American Seed Trade Association, AGree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund, American Farmland Trust, National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, National Association of Conservation Districts, S.D. Farm Bureau, S.D. Cattlemen’s Association, S.D. Stockgrowers Association, S.D. Dairy Producers, S.D. Corn Growers Association, S.D. Soybean Association, S.D. Wheat Inc., S.D. Soil Health Coalition, S.D. Association of Conservation Districts, Michigan Agri-Business Association, and the Michigan Farm Bureau.