WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWTI) — Several U.S. Congress members representing New York State are urging the United States Department of Agriculture to change conservation standards for farmers in the North Country and across the nation.

Five members of the New York State Congressional Delegation sent a letter to the USDA’ Natural Resource Conservation Service. The letter specifically requested that the NRCS allow farmers to mechanically harvest cover crops and meet standards.

According to Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who lead the letter, this is following a newly released USDA standard stating that cover crops could not longer be mechanically harvested,

In the letter sent on April 8, the group claimed that cover crops allow farmers to improve farm viability, soil health, nutrient management, water quality, greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation.

Congresswoman Stefanik commented on how this standard impacts North Country farmers.

“Farmers in the North Country have been responsible stewards of the land for generations, and they are experts at implementing conservation practices,” stated Stefanik. “The USDA’s decision to modify this standard is another example of unnecessary government overreach and poses a significant challenge to farmers across the country.”

The full letter addressed to the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Acting Chief Terry Cosby can be read below:

Dear Acting Chief Cosby,

We write to you regarding the USDA’s recently published CPS 340 Cover Crop standard. This decision poses significant challenges for our farmers who have long implemented cover cropping
techniques on their farms.

As you know, growing and harvesting cover crops for forage can provide all of the benefits of growing an unharvested cover crop, if done appropriately. Harvesting these crops allows farmers
to improve farm viability, soil health, nutrient management, water quality, greenhouse gas mitigation, and adaptation to climate change. Farmers are currently able to partner with state and federal cost-share programs to test and fine tune their cover crop management options with the goal of long-term adoption.

Allowing cover crops to be mechanically harvested as winter forage crops within CPS 340 would maintain a key management option for achieving long-term adoption of these practices without farmer reliance on the cost-share program. This would also extend the limited state and federal funds to allow more farmers to try the program and adopt cover crop techniques as a regular part of their crop rotations.

The NRCS’ decision to add language no longer allowing farmers to mechanically harvest cover
crops is very concerning for many of the farmers in our districts. Our producers rely heavily on
cover crops to control soil erosion and utilize the crops as a feed source for their animals. Maintaining this language would have a severe negative impact on our farmers, affecting their profitability and their ability to maintain their reputation as responsible stewards of the land. We
are concerned this change will hurt the overall goal of the program and will dissuade farmers in our districts from adopting cover crops.

As the Representatives for agricultural districts in New York, we request that USDA and NRCS
allow the use of mechanical harvest practices to meet the cover crop standard. We look forward
to working with you on this issue.

This letter was sent by New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Congressman Antonio Delgado, Congressman Chris Jacobs, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and Congresswoman Claudia Tenney.