LOYAL, OKLA.—It seems you can’t pick up a farm publication or listen to the agriculture news without reading or hearing something about soil health and regenerative agriculture. More and more, farmers and ranchers are undertaking practices such as improved pasture management, no-till crop production and planting cover crops in an effort to improve the health of their soil, better prepare for droughts and floods and help reduce input costs. They are experimenting with different plant species mixtures in their covers, working in some cases to incorporate more livestock to graze cover crops and looking at new marketing opportunities like carbon credits. But with all this energy and focus, one thing often gets over looked by even many of the long-term early adopters of these soil health practices—they never think about the importance of reporting any of their cover crop acres to the USDA Farm Services Agency (FSA).
That needs to change.
If you follow the ag news, you probably know by now that earlier this summer USDA announced a new crop insurance premium assistance program for farmers who planted fall cover crops and were in the process of insuring their spring planted program crops (cash crops), called the Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP). This program was an effort to help those producers who undertook the sustained, long-term investment required to plant cover crops during the challenging economic times created by the COVID-19 pandemic with a one-time crop insurance premium support of $5 per acre. The trick was that those cover crop acres that qualified for this program were those that producers reported to FSA using the Report of Acreage form (FSA-578) at the local USDA service center.
Many summer crop producers who wanted to take advantage of this initiative were put in a bind trying to meet an accelerated deadline of turning in previously unreported cover crop acres to FSA. While the deadline for the initial rollout of this program has passed, there has been some discussion on extending it this fall for crops such as winter wheat. Whether or not this happens, the only way a farmer who plants cover crops can take advantage of this or any other potential new program to reward soil health practices is to make sure they have all their information turned in to FSA. That’s why it is so important that, if you do use soil health practices on your land, you make sure to take the additional step of enrolling your cover crop acres using form FSA-578. You need to contact your local USDA service center to make an appointment as soon as you get your covers planted this summer. You can find a list of local and state FSA offices here: https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=us&agency=fsa
Please keep in mind, the deadline for the initial rollout of the Pandemic Cover Crop Program has already passed. That horse is out of the barn. And if you grow winter wheat, rye or other fall planted crops that you follow with summer covers, you weren’t eligible for this first roll out. That said, I would STRONGLY encourage producers who are planning to plant summer covers to report their cover crop acreage to FSA once these covers are in the ground. If this program continues into the fall to cover winter cash crop acres, producers will want to be sure that all of their reporting requirements are covered.
The talk of rewarding and incentivizing soil health and regenerative agriculture practices continues to float around USDA headquarters and the halls of Congress. The last thing you want to do is get caught flat-footed by not having your information turned in to USDA.

–Clay Pope, Loyal, Okla.
Southern Plains Climate Hub