Policy Update: USDA Creates Short-Term Pandemic Cover Crop Program
On June 1st, USDA released details of a new Pandemic Cover Crop Program (read AFT’s press release here) aimed at helping farmers to maintain their cover crop systems despite recent financial challenges. The program is part of USDA’s broader Pandemic Assistance to Producers initiative, and does not represent a permanent program. It bears significant similarities to Illinois’ “Fall Covers for Spring Savings” program, which AFT has been instrumental in advancing. The Illinois program is one of only three state-level cover crop insurance rebate programs in the nation.
Farmers will have until June 15 to report the cover crops that they planted in the 2021 crop year (which includes all cover crops planted in fall 2020). Once they have reported the acreage, they will receive a $5/acre rebate on this year’s crop insurance premium.
Participation in the Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP) is not precluded by participation in other conservation programs – farmers who enrolled their acres in programs such as the Fall Covers for Spring Savings or EQIP will still receive rebates up to, but not more than, the full value of the premium. The program will accept all types of cover crop and nearly all types of insurance plans, except for whole-farm revenue. There is no information at present on how much funding the program has. As of 2017, the nation had about 15 million acres of cover crops, meaning that the PCCP could potentially expend around $75 million to farmers.
Also as part of the announcement of the PCCP, USDA stated that NRCS will not change the definition of the cover crop conservation practice standard. The agency had considered restricting mechanical harvest of cover crops, but based on stakeholder input—including comments from AFT—the agency reversed the decision.
Finally, we wanted to share that the Illinois Fall Covers for Spring Savings program had its funding doubled as part of the state’s next budget. This will raise the number of acres supported by the program from 50,000 to 100,000 acres. Fall Covers for Spring Savings saw record participation in 2021, accepting only one quarter of acres due to the strong demand for the program. Congratulations to AFT’s Midwest team for all of their work in successfully advocating for this funding!
To receive the benefit for this program, producers must file a Report of Acreage form (FSA-578) for cover crops with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) by June 15, 2021, which is distinct from the normal acreage reporting date. The normal acreage reporting deadline with FSA has not changed, but to receive the premium benefit, producers must file by June 15. The cover crop fields reported on the Report of Acreage form must match what the producer reported to their insurance company for crop insurance policies. To file the form, producers must contact and make an appointment with their local USDA Service Center.