As planting season surges, barriers remain for organic farmers


If you are a farmer or live in a rural area, you know that planting season is in full swing. Planting rates are ahead of last year. On May 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 87% of Nebraska’s expected corn, and 95% of Iowa’s, has been planted. In states that grow the majority of the country’s corn, 81% of what’s expected has been planted. Soybeans and other crops are not far behind. 

Each year, the first farmers planting are those using conventional production methods. Weeks will pass before organic farmers follow suit. Organic corn, for example, is typically planted two to three weeks later than conventional corn. This is necessary to manage weed control and avoid cross-pollination with conventional varieties. 

Despite this necessity, organic farmers must plant their crops by the same deadline as conventional farmers to receive full protection under the federal crop insurance program. The vast majority of row crops in our region are insured, protecting them in case of a loss or disaster. They must be planted by a final planting date set by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), or the farmer’s insurance coverage is decreased for every day that follows. 

While weather conditions have been favorable this year, they can quickly delay planting. Because they needed to wait longer before getting started, organic farmers bear an outsized burden.

“If planting is delayed, the lost coverage from missing the final planting date makes a bad situation worse,” said organic farmer Matthew Fitzgerald. “Crop losses are stressful on any operation. They are exacerbated when the crop insurance that is intended to manage our risk is driven by the calendar, rather than the weather.”

RMA can address this issue by establishing a separate final planting date for organic producers, or by designating a grace period. Doing so would be a step in the right direction to ensure fairness for all farmers.