WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to allow agriculture producers to hay or graze cover crops planted on acres in prevented planting on Sept. 1, rather than Nov. 1.

Producers will be able to hay, graze or cut cover crops for silage, haylage or baleage on prevented plant acres beginning on Sept. 1 and remain eligible for their full 2019 prevented planting indemnity.

Members of Congress had urged the move as the quality and quantity of feed produced would decrease by Nov.1, and many parts of the country are in need of feed given the wet conditions and flooding experienced in much of the Midwest. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators urged the change in a letter to USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey, noting the increased use of cover crops would also reduce soil erosion and improve soil health, weed suppression and moisture retention.

“We appreciate USDA heeding our call to provide an earlier date for haying and grazing of cover crops on prevent plant acres,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement. “This earlier date will help producer to better utilize cover crops, which are an important tool for our farmers that allows prevent plant acres to be better maintained.”

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said the old deadline gave some more mild states an advantage over ones who see colder weather earlier. States further south could still see growth through November, while South Dakota will likely already have snow or frost.

“You don’t have to talk to more than two producers in South Dakota to realize that waiting until November 1 to allow them to either graze or mechanically harvest cover crops without an indemnity reduction on their prevent plant acres is far too late, particularly with South Dakota’s uncertain fall and winter weather," Thune said in a Thursday written statement. "It’s arbitrary, and it sets an inequitable standard that puts some states at a greater advantage than others based simply on their geographical location."

USDA also announced that the Farm Service Agency will be extending the deadline to report prevented planting acres in select counties, and that the Natural Resources Conservation Service will hold special sign-ups for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to provide cost-share assistance in the planting of cover crops on impacted land, according to Rep. Collin Peterson's office.

“Farmers are in need of options and common-sense flexibility given this year’s disaster situation, where we have millions of acres of farm and rangeland impacted. The changes announced today by USDA will go a long way toward providing farmers and livestock producers with options to address the forage situation in many parts of the country. After hearing from hundreds of farmers at a town hall meeting, I urged the Secretary to make this change, and I appreciate the willingness of Secretary Perdue to provide this relief to farmers and ranchers," Peterson said in a statement.

Forum News Service reporter Sarah Mearhoff contributed to this report.