Farmers Warned Against More Attacks on Crop Insurance

Agriculture is gearing up to fend off continued attacks on crop insurance in Congress as negotiations over a new farm bill begin.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that crop insurance is going to have a target on its back,” said Tara Smith, vice president of federal affairs for the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, which is a liaison between member companies and regulatory agencies.

Attacks on crop insurance can come from any direction, she said.

Congress last year attempted to cut $3 billion from crop insurance in a budget bill. The funds were reinserted in a transportation bill.

“So in the unlikeliest of places, crop insurance can actually come up,” Smith said.

In 2015, farmers paid $3.7 billion in premiums and the government subsidized $6 billion in premiums, according to the USDA Risk Management Agency website. Some $9.6 billion in losses were paid.

Annual budget and appropriations cycles are opportunities for opponents to “take jabs” at crop insurance, Smith said.

“We really need to be diligent, being sure we’re watching those processes and we’re not just talking to the agriculture committee when we talk about cuts to crop insurance and how important crop insurance is,” she said. “We need to be sure we’re reaching out to the appropriations committees, budget committees, to be sure those folks have good information as well. They could end up having a say over what the program looks like also.”

Roughly 80 percent of U.S. farm acreage is insured, said Rick Williams, senior risk management specialist at the USDA RMA office in Spokane.

Organizations representing both the far left, such as the Environmental Working Group, and far right, such as the Heritage Foundation, have made it clear they’d like to see insurance cuts, Smith said.

“A lot of what those folks put forward about crop insurance isn’t exactly true,” she said. “If it’s not blatantly false, it’s half-truths.”

A coalition led by the bureau works to address myths and ensure information is accurate when speaking to legislators and the new presidential administration, Smith said.

“We’ve learned some valuable lessons through the last farm bill negotiations that we need to apply and be way more strategic in our approach,” said Marva Ulleland, vice president of operations for Northwest Farm Credit Services in Spokane.

Harmful amendments could include a 30 percent reduction in private sector delivery, payment limitations of $40,000 and full disclosure of anyone receiving payments or benefits from government subsidies through the crop insurance programs.

“The revenue protection in your policy is literally at risk here,” Ulleland said. “We’re going to need all of the grass-roots movements to protect that part of the policy language.”

Smith, Ulleland and Williams spoke during a panel discussion at the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Source: Matthew Weaver, Capital Press

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