Wires

U.S. to allow Sept. 1 grazing on unplantable acres to help farmers after floods

Julie Ingwersen

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CHICAGO, June 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday announced a new measure to help farmers who were unable to plant corn and soybeans due to widespread flooding across the U.S. Midwest.

Cover crops such as grasses are seeded to avoid erosion on acres where flooding deterred growers from planting grains and oilseeds.

In most years, farmers who make a crop insurance claim on these so-called "prevented plant" acres are not allowed until November to chop the fields for silage used to feed livestock.

The USDA's change, which is only for 2019, means growers can hay, graze or cut cover crops for silage on prevented plant acres on or after Sept. 1 and maintain eligibility for their full-year 2019 prevented planting indemnity.

The earlier date should make more forage available for livestock.

University of Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin said the changes should encourage farmers to file for prevented-plant claims and seed cover crops on more acres.

"It clearly moves the needle toward prevent planting at this point. What is hard to figure out is how much," Irwin said.

With the new rule, he said farmers may be able to get three types of income from on prevent-plant acres, including an insurance indemnity, plus the value of the silage produced, as well as a potential payment from the USDA's $16 billion farm aid package announced May 23 to offset losses from an ongoing trade dispute with China.

"This will help farmers keep their head a bit further above water, but it's still not much above water," Irwin added.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this month had said the USDA was "exploring legal flexibilities" to provide aid payments to farmers for acreage that is not planted.

The USDA also announced that its Farm Service Agency will extend the deadline to report prevented planting acres in select counties, U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said in a statement. (Reporting by Julie Ingwersen, editing by G Crosse)