By Emily Garnett
DTN News Intern
OMAHA (DTN) -- Agronomists and conservationists are strongly urging farmers with prevented planting acres or flooded fields to plant some crop -- whether it's late-planted soybeans or cover crops -- on those empty acres. But crop insurance requirements, herbicide and crop residues, timing issues, and the availability of seed have made those planting decisions difficult and confusing for farmers.
"Plant something on the ground; I want you to put something on that ground," Mahdi Al-Kaisi, an Iowa State agronomist told DTN. Leaving land fallow can produce a range of problems, he explained.
Depending on weather, soil erosion and nutrient loss from run-off are serious possibilities. The loss of phosphorus is a near certainty; without a root system on which to live, valuable fungi in the soil, which help plants process phosphorus, will die, Al-Kaisi said. He pointed to research that has shown that fields that lie fallow or flooded produce phosphorus-deficient plants the next spring.
While fallow fields may lose soil, organic matter, and valuable nutrients, weeds will happily grow where crops cannot, and bare soils can accumulate a weed seedbank that could haunt farmers for years to come. Tillage or herbicides used to control those weeds will only add to a farmer's costs, Al-Kaisi pointed out.
Crop insurance requirements, however, complicate farmers' options. Prevented planting acres that are labeled as highly erodible have certain conservation compliance requirements that other acres don't, said Barb Stewart, a state agronomist for the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) in Iowa, in seminar with Practical Farmers of Iowa on cover crops and prevented planting.
Furthermore, the type of crop residue your prevented planting acres have on them will change your options, as will the fertilizers and nutrients you might have already applied to those fields, Stewart said. Herbicides are another factor for farmers to evaluate. During the seminar, Kevin Erickson, from the USDA's Risk Management Agency, urged producers to carefully examine their herbicide labels before picking a cover crop.
Federal crop insurance also forbids growers from harvesting anything from those prevented planting acres before Nov. 1, further complicating cover crop seed and planting timing decisions.
Kevin Erickson, who led farmers through a labyrinth of crop insurance requirements during the Practical Farmer seminar, noted that this deadline is unlikely to change. "It would be a violation of the federal crop insurance act," he said. "That act said, in order to get 100% of prevent plant payments for one crop, you can't get a benefit from another crop during the same crop year, and the Nov. 1 date was about as early as they could push it without violating the act."
To add to the confusion, farmers must shuttle between the NRCS -- which can advise them on cover crops and conservation practices -- and their individual crop insurance policies, where separate compliance requirements for prevented planting acres exist. The compliance requirements should hold final sway over cover crop decisions, Erickson noted, because farmers don't want to risk jeopardizing their prevented planting payments.
"The insurance policy is, to be honest, completely disconnected from best-management practices," Al-Kaisi said. "They are committed to the following: Either you put in cover crops, and then you cut it (in) November, or you leave it dirt -- "black dirt" they call it. So I don't think that soil quality is on their radar screen."
Despite the possibility that crop insurance options could convince some farmers to leave their land fallow, Al Kaisi said, ultimately, producers must line up any cover crop decisions with their prevented planting insurance policy. "All these farmers are businessmen," he said. "You need to come to agreement with your insurance policies and don't shoot yourself in the foot."
To add to these tough decisions, farmers might also face a cover crop seed shortage this summer, some seed providers told DTN. Sales "could be 50% over normal," said Karl Dallefeld, owner of Prairie Creek Seed in Worthington, Iowa. "Between prevented planting and normal growth in cover crops, I think we'll run out of just about all the blends and varieties, specifically tillage radish (and) sorghum sudangrass blends."
Dean Ohloff, product manager at Hall Roberts' Sons Inc., a seed company in Postville, Iowa, said this season has him flummoxed. "My crystal ball is broke," he told DTN. He's received lots of calls from confused farmers who are trying to figure out what they can and can not plant. Whether or not they come to an agreement with their insurance companies on planting cover crops could factor into a potential seed shortage, he said.
For a list of cover crop seed providers, see: http://goo.gl/….
For a comprehensive list of cover crop options and seeding requirements see: http://goo.gl/….
For a link to the RMA Fact Sheet on prevented planting rules, see: http://goo.gl/….
For the Practical Farmer seminar on cover crops and prevented planting see: http://goo.gl/….
Emily Garnett can be reached at email@example.com.
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