Adjusting for the Wet Planting Season

Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) saw firsthand the devastating conditions South Dakota producers are facing this year.  Photo courtesy of Representative Johnson office.

by Kayla Sargent

Mother Nature has thrown her share of curveballs at producers across the Midwest this year.  Record snowfall, extreme flooding, and excessive spring moisture has delayed and even entirely prevented some crop planting and created a feed shortage concern for the livestock sector.  In response, USDA will allow haying, grazing, or chopping of cover crops grown on prevented plant acres to be accessed a month earlier than the usual November 1 deadline.

“We recognize farmers were greatly impacted by some of the unprecedented flooding and excessive rain this spring, and we made this one-year adjustment to help farmers with the tough decisions they are facing this year,” Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said.  “This change will make good stewardship of the land easier to accomplish while also providing an opportunity to ensure quality forage is available for livestock this fall.”

Producers who receive crop insurance payments for prevented planting are prohibited from growing cash crops on non utilized acres.  The November 1 deadline for those enrolled in the federal crop insurance program is intended to prevent “double dipping” — receiving payment for being unable to plant on time, then making a profit off later planted crops.  Producers are typically encouraged to plant cover crops on these acres to prevent soil erosion.  This year those cover crops can be accessed early to ensure good quality feed is still produced on otherwise unused farm ground.

“When disaster strikes, it is good to know that livestock producers have strong allies in Washington,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Jennifer Houston said.  “This move by USDA will provide much-needed relief for hardworking farmers and ranchers trying to recover from this year’s planting season.”

USDA’s Risk Management Agency declared that cover crops can be used for silage, haylage, or baleage this year.  Northey emphasized that these program changes apply only to this year due to harsh weather conditions.

Legislation introduced by Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Representative Angie Craig (D-MN) would make these program changes a more permanent option.  The Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters Act (FEEDD Act) would allow farmers more options to alleviate feed shortages during planting seasons with high acreages of “prevented plant” ground, like the extremely wet spring that much of the Midwest witnessed this year.

“Producers are already facing five years of declining net farm incomes and this wet spring has thrown another challenge their way,” Representative Johnson said.  “South Dakota farmers are resilient but they have made it clear that a commonsense solution is needed to alleviate the feed shortage across the country.”

The FEEDD Act would give producers an emergency waiver to graze, hay, or chop a cover crop before November 1 and still be eligible for their indemnity payment.  By moving the harvest date forward to September 1, this “simple fix” not only addresses feed shortages across the country, but it also enhances the farm safety net, and promotes healthy soil through the planting of cover crops.

Cover crops can help protect soil from water and wind erosion, and produce needed nutrients in the soil for future crops.  This practice is helpful on any average year, but will be especially critical for soil health following extreme flooding and excessive moisture, National Association of Conservation Districts President Tim Palmer explained.

“By providing flexibility for when a producer can utilize cover crop plantings, the FEEDD Act will encourage the adoption of this important conservation practice while adding forage options as an additional economic incentive,” Palmer said.

Representative Craig, whom praised the decision for the current year, added that the FEEDD Act would help provide farmers more certainty in a market where turbulent trade talks are affecting commodity prices.

“In the midst of a delayed planting season, falling commodity prices, and limited market access, Congress has a responsibility to provide farmers and ranchers the flexibility they need to do their jobs successfully,” she said.  “While my colleagues and I will continue to work with the USDA to find Administrative ways to address this issue, Congress must take action on this long-standing concern with a long-standing solution and pursue all possible avenues for relief.”

Both the current announcement and introduced legislation were widely praised by agricultural organizations whom see it as beneficial to both crop and livestock producers.  American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said this year has been “unprecedented” for American producers and the act would help farmers manage their land more successfully while growing needed forage for livestock.

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson explained that current insurance coverage is a “critical tool” in making ends meet for farmers that were unable to get a crop in the ground.  But the FEEDD Act would add more options for farmers by allowing them to harvest a “second crop” alternative.

NCBA supported the introduction of the FEEDD Act and said it will provide opportunities to produce forage for livestock from cover crops without discounting the farmer insurance payments.  Representative Johnson said he often hears Congressmen discussing corn and soybean planting, but not the adverse affects it has on livestock producers.

“I’ve heard the word soybeans a hundred times on the floor of the U.S. House, between the China negotiations and the wet spring, but one word I have not heard a single time on the house floor is forage,” he explained.

Representative Johnson said his constituents don’t want another government program because they “can’t feed their livestock dollar bills,” they just need more flexibility to feed the crops they already have.


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