If you carry crop insurance and have considered seeding cover crops on your summerfallowed acres, do your homework this spring before hauling out that drill or air seeder.

Currently, no-tillers raising fall-seeded small grains like winter wheat and barley are jeopardizing their crop insurance if they seed cover crops on summerfallow acres.

The USDA’s Risk Management Authority (RMA) considers this to be continuous cropping, with the only exception being if the covers have been terminated a full year.

This doesn’t apply to most spring-seeded small grains unless the cover crops are hayed, grazed or harvested.

But the RMA is beginning to review its policies on cover crops and summerfallow and may issue new rules in June for the 2015 crop year. The RMA made some other important policy changes earlier this month pertaining to cover crops, which you can read about by clicking here.

A key issue with RMA on summerfallow and cover crops is how covers affect moisture use and availability and yields for the subsequent insured crop, such as winter wheat.

It’s tough to say how the RMA will come down on this because there may not be enough research to provide a definitive answer, says Ryan Stockwell, national ag program manager for the National Wildlife Federation.

He cited numerous cases where fall-seeded small grains had higher yields — or lower yield losses during a drought — following cover crops rather than traditional summerfallow.

“Most of the research RMA has reviewed looked at replacing fallow with a full crop harvest, with the obvious result of reduced yields for the subsequent crop,” Stockwell says. “This traditional concept of continuous cropping is nothing close to the concept of cover crops, especially if they aren’t grazed or harvested.” 

Making the RMA’s decision more difficult, Stockwell says, is the fact there are so many variables to consider with cover crops and summerfallow: weather, timing of moisture, temperature, soil organic-matter levels and residue management.

What about other variables, he asks, like herbicide interactions, planter maintenance and operator error?

Suffice it to say, no-tillers should keep in close contact with their local NRCS and Extension agents as decision time nears this spring for harvested acres.

Meanwhile, some of your fellow no-tillers have shown they’re willing to take risks. In this edition of Dryland No-Tiller, you’ll read the stories of Colorado no-tiller Scott Ravenkamp and Kansas no-tiller Ben Cramer, who are reducing or eliminating fallow and adding cover crops and grazing to diversify their farm operations.