Feds Encourage Double Cropping

Market to Market | Clip
Dec 15, 2023 | 7 min

As response plans were being formulated following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Risk Management Agency, the USDA unit that handles crop insurance, announced a plan it hoped would boost production inside the U.S. to offset any losses in the former Soviet Union’s breadbasket. 


When Russian forces invaded Ukraine in 2022, USDA worried about the possible impact on the global food supply and on already-high food prices.

As response plans were being formulated, the Risk Management Agency, the USDA unit that handles crop insurance, announced a plan it hoped would boost production inside the U.S. to offset any losses in the former Soviet Union’s breadbasket. They expanded and simplified 2023 insurance coverage for acres that were either double cropped – where one crop follows another in the same field in the same year – or relay cropped – where the two crops overlap.

Marcia Bunger, RMA Administrator, USDA: “We expanded double-cropping coverage into 1,500 additional counties…The expansion in ’23 was historic in my opinion. Farmers answered the call. Crop insurance agents did a lot of educating to farmers about what this was going to look like, crop insurance companies supported it, and RMA processed, as a result, 4,166 new requests for coverage in states where insurance for double cropping was expanded or made easier.”

While the Southeast and Northeast have traditionally had slightly more acres double cropped – traditionally hovering around 8 percent – other regions, including the Northern Plains and the Midwest, lagged behind, usually below 2 percent.

Some farmers still aren’t eligible for double crop coverage, while others must continue to document three years’ worth of the practice before being considered. But the boundaries’ expansions made more producers eligible for the insurance, the cost of which is split between the farmer and taxpayers.

Marcia Bunger, RMA Administrator, USDA: “In states where double-cropping coverage was expanded or made easier, nearly one million additional acres of grain sorghum and soybeans were insured, representing more than a 48 percent increase in insurance coverage for the second crop compared to the 2014 through 2022 average.”

RMA focused on second-crop soybeans and sorghum, which have short enough growing seasons to be planted after the winter wheat harvest. RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger, who farms with her husband in South Dakota, has been happy with the results so far and expects additional federal expansions to the program.

Marcia Bunger, RMA Administrator, USDA: “It’s such a new concept probably in those areas it got expanded to that, without the protection of crop insurance, it would have probably taken a number of years to evolve to this…Because we don’t have a crystal ball for weather, you need to be somewhat cautious because it costs money to put crop in the ground…. Farmers I think felt they could sleep at night probably a little bit better.”

The extra acres may have been planted due to RMA simply providing farmers with a safety net but other factors were also likely at play.

Dry weather last year in some Midwest states may have harmed winter wheat and forage harvests, prompting some farmers to put in a subsequent crop. Other producers likely added wheat to their operations as predictions of higher futures prices came in the wake of the invasion.

Marcia Bunger, RMA Administrator, USDA: “Insured winter wheat acres were up over two and a half million acres - and that’s a 16.8 percent increase - in the area where USDA streamlined the coverage.”

Linus Rothermich, who farms about 100 miles west of St. Louis, was double cropping before the federal program was expanded, but he has not added the double coverage just yet. He follows wheat or rye with Japanese millet, the seeds of which are planted by other producers who use it for hay.

Linus Rothermich, producer, Auxvasse, Missouri: “Here in Missouri if we grow wheat or rye, it is harvested in July, late June, early July. This was planted in the middle of July and it’s already almost close to being mature so it’s a really short season crop. So I can squeeze this in as a double-crop, and that’s where it really really works for me.”

He stands by double cropping as a good practice, both for soil health and his bottom line.

Linus Rothermich, producer, Auxvasse, Missouri: “Because I’m raising two crops, I’ve got to raise a really really good corn crop to be as profitable as this is.”

More than 300 miles to the north near Latimer, Iowa, Plagge Farms Inc. has been experimenting with double and relay cropping for four years. The family has planted soybeans following rye in the past and, this year, soybeans following oats. They also experimented with following oats with a sorghum Sudangrass-radish-turnip blend that a neighbor’s cattle grazed in the fall.

Landon Plagge, Plagge Farms Inc., Latimer, Iowa: “I don’t have a history proven with the USDA yet. They just came out with some new initiatives in the last year or so expanding double cropping to new counties and now we would be eligible for it so now I want to make sure I certify that I’m doing it now.”

For now, however, Landon Plagge is doubtful they will apply for the insurance anytime soon. He’s weighing the benefits against some of the program’s restrictions.

Landon Plagge, Plagge Farms Inc., Latimer, Iowa: “There’s a lot of restrictions on planting dates and crops that can be planted and how they are planted, which, we like to experiment and we are learning so much every year, it’s hard to fall into a program until we have enough experience to do it correctly.”

But he will keep an eye out for some of the fine-tuning of the program that Bunger says is still coming, and plans to continue double cropping regardless.

Landon Plagge, Plagge Farms Inc., Latimer, Iowa: “Last year, I actually planted crops on our farm here in northern Iowa nine months out of the year and harvested crops four months out of the year. So it really spreads out our workload and diversifies our farm significantly so we aren’t as exposed to weather risks such as the drought this year….I think the changes RMA are doing is good and will open opportunity in the future.”

By Colleen Bradford Krantz, colleen.krantz@iowapbs.org