Farmers and ranchers will have the option of haying or grazing cover crops this fall and winter without affecting their next-season’s eligibility for crop insurance. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new policy on Wednesday, along with a modification of emergency loans that will allow livestock producers to access money earlier as they face historically high feed prices.

The agency has, over the past month, announced a series of emergency measures to assist livestock producers affected by severe drought. These include a reduction in payments for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres used for emergency haying and grazing, provisions for haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement areas, measures to provide flexibility in grazing Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, improved access to loans through credit unions and $30 million in new relief funds administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to assist in moving water to livestock in need, providing emergency forage for livestock, and rehabilitating lands severely impacted by the drought.

According to Wednesday’s announcement, USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) will file special provisions statements to allow farmers to plant cover crops this fall for use as hay or forage without risking crop insurance coverage in 2013. Also, USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) will make changes to the emergency loan program that will help producers obtain loans prior to the end of the production cycle. Previously, loan eligibility was based on crop losses determined after the season, with loans based on production during normal years.

Also on Wednesday, Vilsack designated 33 additional counties in 8 states as natural disaster areas, mostly due to drought. In the past six weeks, USDA has designated 1,821 counties in 35 states as disaster areas.

Once again, in announcing the new policies, Vilsack stressed the need for Congress to pass a farm bill as soon as possible “to give USDA more tools to help and to give more certainty to producers in this difficult time."

Read more about Wednesday’s announcements.

Read more about USDA’s previous emergency measures for livestock producers.