USDA says may allow farmers to collect some trade aid on unplantable acres

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking into ways to allow farmers who have been unable to plant crops due to rains and waterlogged fields to qualify for farm aid payments, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Monday.

The government agency is exploring options that would allow farmers that file insurance claims on “prevented planting” policies to remain eligible for a partial payment under its $16 billion aid package, Perdue said in a statement.

But the farmers will need to plant an eligible cover crop, a practice typically intended to prevent soil erosion, Perdue added.

“USDA is not legally authorized to make Market Facilitation Program payments to producers for acreage that is not planted. However, we are exploring legal flexibilities to provide a minimal per acre market facilitation payment,” Perdue said.

The USDA announced its aid package on May 23 to partially offset losses resulting from the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute.

The USDA has offered few details beyond the per-acre payment structure and the list of crops farmers must plant to qualify.

The agency had not disclosed whether farmers who filed claims for unplantable acres would qualify for aid and many farmers have approached planting decisions assuming they could only qualify for one of the benefits.

U.S. corn and soybean planting is well behind the normal rate, and regional final planting deadlines specified in so-called prevented planting policies have lapsed in many areas.

Further details of the aid program will be announced in the coming weeks, USDA said.

Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago, editing by G Crosse