Over the past year there has been some disagreement among USDA agencies concerning cover crops. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Risk Management Agency (RMA) have been sending farmers mixed messages about the value of cover crops.
In some states (not Pennsylvania) RMA would not permit crops following cover crops to be insured due to the perceived risk of the cover crop compromising the following crop yield due to soil moisture depletion. At the same time, NRCS was promoting cover crops for soil health and soil conservation. After cover crop enthusiasts brought this issue up in national debate, the disagreement has been addressed by these USDA agencies with recently released guidelines for cover crop termination.
Interestingly for Pennsylvania, the Guidelines state that cover crops in Zone 4 may be terminated up to 5 days after planting, but prior to crop emergence and still be eligible for crop insurance. This opens the door for ‘planting green’, a new practice we have not recommended. However, as farmers and service personnel get more experience with cover crops in no-tillage systems, and are able to set up their planter to enable them to plant through massive cover crops, planting green is becoming a more common practice. Care needs to be taken to ensure the planter has enough weight to penetrate the soil to place the seed at proper depth. In addition, the closing mechanism needs to be able to close the seed slot so the seed does not sit in an open slit exposed to the elements and any hungry insect, bird or slug that happens to come along.
Planting through green cover crops has the advantage that the cover crops can accumulate more dry matter and nutrients that can help to improve soil quality and increase nutrient value of the cover crop.