Can I Use Corn or Soybeans as a Cover Crop on Prevented Plant Acres?

June 14, 2019

Written by: Paul D. Mitchell, Agricultural and Applied Economics, UW-Madison Office: (608) 265-6514 Email Web

As many Wisconsin farmers are taking prevented plant payments for their insured corn or soybeans acres, they are asking what they can use for cover crops on these acres. Traditional cover crop seed is hard to find this year with all the prevented plant acres in the region and farmers already have corn and/or soybean seed. Thus the question: Can I use corn or soybeans as a cover crop on prevented plant acres? The short answer is yes, but only if planted sufficiently late and if the cover crop is never harvested for grain, seed or silage/green chopped, even after November 1. Note that a cover crop can be grazed, baled for hay or baled for straw/stover for bedding, including a corn or soybean corn crop, but only after November 1. This bulletin provides guidance to farmers, examining at three options.

First, if a farmer takes the full prevented plant indemnity, planting the same crop as a cover crop before the end of the late planting period is not allowed. Instead, the farmer should report it as late planted with a reduced guarantee. For all but northern Wisconsin, June 25, is the end of the late planting period for corn grain, June 30, for corn silage. For soybeans, the late planting period ends on July 5, for the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin and on July 10, for the southern third. Therefore, after taking a full prevented plant indemnity, planting corn or soybeans as a cover crop before these dates is not allowed. These maps (above) shows the dates for the end of the late planting periods for each Wisconsin county. If a farmer wants to plant a cover crop during this period, something other than corn and soybeans should be planted.

Second, if the goal is to harvest forage from prevented plant acres, then farmers should take the partial prevented plant payment (35% of the full payment) and acknowledge forage as the alternative crop. Technically farmers can take the full prevented plant indemnity and wait until after November 1 to graze the cover crop, to bale it as hay for feed or to bale it as straw/stover for bedding (making silage is not allowed, even after November 1). However, this is a risky practice for forage production in Wisconsin and not recommended. Rather, farmers should take the partial prevented plant payment (35% of the full payment) and acknowledge forage as the alternative crop. If farmers have questions, they should consult with local agronomic experts for recommended crops for forage production as an alternative crop. Potentially, a full season corn hybrid (105-110 days) planted in early July may be a viable option for corn silage production, but it will not be insurable.

Third, the RMA does not have an official list of approved cover crops. RMA states that “For crop insurance purposes, a cover crop is a crop generally recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement.” (https://www.rma.usda.gov/en/Fact-Sheets/National-Fact-Sheets/Cover- Crops-and-Crop-Insurance). Thus a local agronomic expert, such as a University of Wisconsin Extension county crops agent, could provide a letter to a farmer and crop insurance agent that corn or soybeans was an acceptable cover crop in their county. Alternatively, a University of Wisconsin Extension state agronomic specialist could provide publically available written guidance on how to use corn or soybeans as a cover crop on prevented plant acres in Wisconsin including recommended agronomic practices. If farmers use corn or soybeans as a cover crop, they should carefully document the destruction of the corn or soybean cover crop (e.g., with dated photographs), that it was not chopped for forage or harvested for grain or seed, and if they grazed it or baled it for hay or straw/stover, that they did not do so until after November 1, and that is it clearly for bedding. Potentially, this documentation could include a written statement from an Extension county crops agent or other third party expert witness documenting and certifying these activities and their dates.

Finally, many farmers have been wondering about the impact of prevented plant acres on USDA support payments. The market facilitation program (MFP) has been announced for 2019, with Secretary Perdue making an official press release on June 10: https://www.usda.gov/media/pressreleases/2019/06/10/secretary-perdue-statement-disaster-and-trade-related-assistance. At this time, it seems that MFP payments will not be made for prevented plant acres (see item 4), but these interpretations can evolve, as MFP is authorized by executive order, not an existing law. Prevented plant payments do not affect Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) payments. Lastly, how the USDA Farm Service Agency will count prevented plant acres as acres planted for determining base acres is officially unclear and has to be clarified by Congress.

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