Producers who have crop insurance coverage may qualify for premium support up to $5 per acre in a new USDA assistance program if they planted cover crops for the 2021 crop year.

The Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday some cover crop acreage could be eligible for the Pandemic Cover Crop Program offered by USDA's Risk Management Agency.

Qualifying cover crops include cereals, grasses, legumes, brassicas, non-legume broadleaves, and mixes of two or more cover crop species planted at the same time.

“Producers use cover crops to improve soil health and gain other agronomic benefits, and this program will reduce producers’ overall premium bill to help ensure producers can continue this climates-smart agricultural practice,” RMA Acting Administrator Richard Flournoy said.

According to RMA, the program provides premium support to farmers who insured their spring crop and planted a qualifying cover crop for the time period. Premium support is $5 per acre but not more than the full premium owed.

Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois already have programs for producers to receive a premium subsidy for planting cover crops and if a producer already participates in one of those, they may receive an additional benefit through PCCP, according to USDA.

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Producers must report acreage to USDA's Farm Service Agency by June 15 to qualify for PCCP and must match what was reported to their crop insurance company. 

In a separate move, USDA decided not to update its conservation practice standard for cover crops. 

In March, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced it was updating 23 practice standards which included Cover Crop code 340.

The revision proposed restricting mechanical harvest of cover crops; after pushback from ag groups and others, the agency determined the restriction could pose challenges for producers. NRCS received 89 comments through the Federal Register regarding the cover crop standard. According to NRCS, those comments "revealed that producers are moving from adoption of a cover crop to the conservation management of the cover crop within their cropping systems."

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