Following a Spring with Record-Setting Rainfall in the Midwest , Brown, Lugar Call on USDA to give Greater Flexibility to Farmers with Cover Crops

Because of Record Rainfall, Only 58 Percent of Ohio Corn Has Been Planted, 97 Percent Had Been Planted by This Week in 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As record rainfall in the Midwest has delayed planting of cash crops like corn, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Dick Lugar (R-IN) today urged the Obama Administration to give farmers greater flexibility in removing their cover crops so Ohio farmers may be eligible for crop insurance.

“Cover crops are not preventing farmers from planting—wet weather is,” Brown said. “Cover crops are providing benefits for farmers by reducing soil compaction, storing nutrients, and soaking up excess water.  Refusing to provide crop insurance to these famers penalizes them for following good conservation practices.”

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) Administrator, Brown and Lugar called for flexibility so that farmers who have implemented conservation practices—as directed by the USDA—are not penalized due to inclement weather. Under current RMA guidelines, farmers are not eligible for crop insurance coverage for their regular cash crop unless the cover crop has been removed by a set date. Because heavy rainfall has delayed cash crop planting, many farmers have missed the deadline—originally set for May 15. Although the RMA pushed the deadline back to June 1, many farmers will still be penalized.  

Full text of the letter is below.

June 7, 2011

Administrator William J. Murphy
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Risk Management Agency
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Administrator Murphy,

For years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been encouraging farmers to adopt practices that help them uphold their stewardship of the land.  However, we are concerned that farmers who have adopted the best conservation practices will be penalized for doing so.

As you know, this spring the Midwest has seen unusually persistent wet weather that has delayed the removal of cover crops and subsequent planting.  Under current RMA guidelines, farmers are not eligible for crop insurance coverage for their regular cash crop unless the cover crop has been removed by a set date.  The result is that, through no fault of their own, farmers who adopted the best conservation practices may not be eligible for crop insurance.  Given this, we respectfully ask that you provide farmers who are embracing good conservation practices – and have been unable to remove cover crops due to the wet weather – with more flexibility to remove their cover crop and plant their regular cash crop.

We appreciate your recognition of the Midwest’s record-setting rainfall this year by moving the required cover crop kill date from May 15 to June 1 for corn and June 10 for soybean planting.  At this time last year, the vast majority of farmers had already planted their crops in our home states.  Unfortunately, this year has been particularly difficult for many farmers in the Midwest.  Farmers may be permanently discouraged from using cover crops in the future, should they have problems obtaining crop insurance this year.

Traditionally, farmers who choose to integrate cover crops in farming systems have been known to increase their profitability and also improve local water quality.  Cover crops are providing benefits for farmers by reducing soil compaction, storing nutrients, and soaking up excess water.  Failing to provide crop insurance to these famers penalizes them for following good conservation practices and the advice of National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS).  Cover crops are not preventing farmers from planting – wet weather is. Some of the only fields that have been planted in our home states are those where corn or soybeans are planted into a standing cover crop.

Even in less-than-ideal weather, cover crops help farmers that elect to plant them.  Research shows that cover crops can increase the yield of cash crops by improving soil quality and nutrients.  Additionally, in wet years, cover crops are one of the quickest ways to bring soil moisture to appropriate levels for planting.  Cover crops reduce nutrient and pesticide runoff by 50 percent or more, decrease soil erosion by 90 percent, and increase the rate of water infiltration into soils to circumvent flooding.  These cost-saving conservation efforts benefit our waters from Grand Lake St. Marys to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, generating economic benefits from tourism, fishing, and recreation.  

By creating such uncertainty with regard to insuring cover crops, it could threaten to remove this important tool from our conservation toolkit into the future.  We appreciate your consideration of this request and thank you for your continued flexibility with our nation’s farmers.

Sincerely,


_______________________________        _______________________________
                  Sherrod Brown                          Richard G. Lugar
                   US Senator                             US Senator


CC:  Chief Dave White, US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

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