A bipartisan group of senators joined some Corn Belt farm groups in appealing to the Agriculture Department to ease restrictions on haying and grazing of cover crops that farmers will plant on acreage they were unable to sow to corn or soybeans this year.
Crop insurance rules bar harvesting or grazing of cover crops on prevented planting acreage before Nov. 1. Farm groups, who want that date moved up, say that producers are already struggling to find adequate forage and feed.
The Nov. 1 date will discourage farmers from seeding cover crops on prevented-planted acreage, said a letter signed by eight Midwest senators, including GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois.
The senators also asked Bill Northey, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation programs, to allow for flexibility on termination of cover crops, using authority provided in the 2018 farm bill.
“Cover crops will be an important soil building and risk management tool on 2019 crop year acres prevented form being planted due to the extremely wet spring planting season,” the senators wrote.
In a statement, a USDA spokesperson said the department "is aware of the concerns from farmers and will issue a decision on this in the coming weeks."
The appeal to USDA came as President Donald Trump on Thursday signed into law a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will include payments to augment farmers’ prevented-planting insurance benefits.
“Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms,” Trump announced on Twitter from Europe. “So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers.”
The bill also will provide payments for damage to crops from hurricanes, wildfires and flooding in 2018 and 2019 as well as flooding damage to stored grain. The bill also includes a provision to lift the $900,000 adjusted gross income limit for producers who receive Market Facilitation Program payments from USDA. the $125,000 payment limit for MFP will remain in place.
According to USDA’s latest Crop Progress report, only 67% of the expected corn acreage this year had been planted as of Sunday, compared to the average pace of 96% and 10 percentage points behind 1995, the previous slowest pace at that point.
Some 39% of the soybean crop had been planted by Sunday; the average is 79%.
While many farmers are still struggling to plant corn, the financial incentives are dwindling. The final dates for full insurance coverage on corn have already passed as of Wednesday for all of the Corn Belt. After those dates, insurance coverage is reduced by 1% a day.
State Farm Bureaus in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, along with the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association, Dairy Farmers of America and Michigan Milk Producers Association sent a separate letter to USDA appealing for flexibility for cover crops.
“A record percentage of the corn acreage will be prevented plant this year, due to excessive rain. Many of those prevented plant crop acres are adjacent to livestock farms, and could be planted to forages for harvest, but administrative action is needed to allow this to happen,” the groups said in their letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“Many farmers have indicated that unless emergency provisions are made in the next thirty days that cows will have to be sold,” the groups added.
Ernie Birchmeier, a livestock specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau said producers already are short of feed and forage. Parts of Michigan and Wisconsin had severe winter-kill damage of up to 80%, he said.
Farmers who are unable to plant corn can get benefits worth 55% of the insured value, but the indemnities are reduced if they plant a cover crop. The disaster bill allows USDA to augment those benefits with payments worth up to 90% of the crop's value. Farmers without insurance could get payments of up to 70% of the crop's value.
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