WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that farmers can plant beneficial cover crops without facing crop insurance penalties when bad weather prevents them from planting their crops for the season.
The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021 was inspired by Senator Stabenow and Senator Gary Peters’s successful effort in 2019 to give flexibility to Michigan farmers after record-setting flooding and wet weather delayed planting. Currently, crop insurance penalizes farmers for planting cover crops that can be used for livestock grazing or animal feed when farmers can’t plant their crops for the season because of bad weather. The bill will permanently lift this restrictive rule and provide certainty if farmers face poor planting conditions again this spring.
“Historic rainfall in 2019 caused many farmers to miss the planting season,” said Senator Stabenow. “When extreme weather gets in the way of planting, farmers aren’t able to grow beneficial cover crops without facing a crop insurance penalty. This commonsense change permanently fixes that problem and is a win for the environment and for farmers.”
Planting cover crops helps farmers get value from their land through grazing and harvesting. It also improves soil productivity and prevents weeds from overgrowing in fields. Cover crops also provide important climate and conservation benefits by storing harmful carbon pollution in the soil and reducing erosion and runoff into the Great Lakes. Because cover cropping makes farmland more resilient against flooding and drought, it has the potential to lower crop insurance claims, premiums, and taxpayer costs.
The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021 is supported by 37 farm and conservation organizations, including the Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Milk Producers Association, Michigan Corn Growers Association, Michigan Soybean Association, and The Nature Conservancy in Michigan.
“Unpredictable springtime weather poses risks for Michigan agriculture every year, and this bipartisan bill led by Sen. Debbie Stabenow helps ensure farmers who may have prevented planting claims can still unlock the many benefits of cover crops,” said Chuck Lippstreu, President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “As farmers and their trusted ag retail advisors look to cover crops for both economic and stewardship benefits, the Cover Crop Flexibility Act will provide added certainty well into the future.”
“In 2019, Michigan's wet spring prevented nearly a million acres from being planted. Worse, these conditions led to shortages in hay and forages for livestock later in the season. Farmers in Michigan are resilient and frequently face weather extremes, but even they sometimes need help when severe conditions prevent them from producing a crop at all. Senator Stabenow's bill will provide farmers in Michigan and across the country with much-needed flexibility during critical weather-events like they experienced in 2019. Michigan Farm Bureau appreciates Senator Stabenow's leadership on this bipartisan legislation,” said Carl Bednarski, President of Michigan Farm Bureau.
“This legislation will give farmers some much-needed flexibility in managing their land to deal with unforeseen weather impacts like what we experienced in 2019,” said Randy Poll, President of the Michigan Corn Growers Association. “It also allows us to better protect Michigan’s land by strategically using cover crops to improve soil health and fertility, suppress weeds, and reduce soil erosion. We thank Senator Stabenow for her continuing support of Michigan’s agriculture industry.”
“Planting cover crops is a conservation strategy thousands of soy growers are using very effectively for long term soil health and farm management, and we appreciate the bipartisan approach to provide crop insurance flexibility,” said Heather Feuerstein, President of Michigan Soybean Association. “This legislation permanently provides that needed flexibility to encourage cover crops and allow some grazing and harvesting on prevented plant acres. Soybean farmers need these solutions to improve their farm risk management strategy.”
“Cover crops provide significant benefits to all of us in terms of erosion control, nutrient retention and helping to build soil health through carbon capture and increased soil organic matter,” said Madhu Anderson, Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. “The Nature Conservancy strongly supports this legislation because we believe it will encourage more farmers to make cover crops a part of their cropping system.”