Wheat Farmers Ask RMA for Help With Falling Numbers

Some Pacific Northwest wheat farmers dealing with sprout damage face a double whammy – their yields are too high to generate crop insurance payments, and the sprouting causes their insurance premiums to increase.

They want USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Brandon Willis to make an exception to the procedure the agency uses to calculate a farmer’s actual production history, or APH, said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. The APH is used to determine a farmer’s crop insurance premium.

Farmers are being docked because of low falling numbers caused by sprout damage, but they are not qualifying for crop insurance payments because their yields are still high, Hennings said.

At the same time, the low falling numbers can cause a farmer’s crop insurance premium to increase, creating a double-whammy.

“They’re docked at the elevator to begin with, and they go over to their insurance company and they’re getting docked again,” she said. “This is very detrimental to a farmer’s bottom line.”

Grain elevators use the Hagberg-Perten falling number test to measure starch damage due to sprouting. A low falling number indicates a high level of alpha amylase, an enzyme that degrades starch and diminishes the quality of wheat.

Wheat with a falling number below 300 typically receives a discount. Rain and temperature fluctuations are the primary cause of the damage.

As of Sept. 13, 42 percent of soft white wheat samples collected by Washington State Grain Inspection showed a falling number of 300 or lower, as did 43 percent of club wheat, 20 percent of hard red winter wheat and 10 percent of hard red spring wheat.

“Farmers are upset because they feel quality and price should not be affecting their actual production if their yields are high,” Hennings said.

Farmers provide crop insurance agencies with settlement sheets from elevator companies showing the gross number of bushels they harvested. The paperwork also shows the falling numbers and other dockage.

The crop insurance company calculates a farmer’s yields based on reported acres and gross bushels. The falling number factor is based on RMA’s discount chart for quality adjustment.

If a farmer’s APH goes down over a 10-year period, he is more of a risk, and his crop insurance premiums increase Hennings said.

Some newer farmers who have low falling numbers could potentially be put out of business this year, Hennings said.

Using a farmer’s yields will keep their APH “at a reasonable level, so they don’t see an increase in their insurance” premium, she said.

WAWG is looking into instances where other exceptions were made, Hennings said.

A letter from members of the House and Senate, led by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, was slated to arrive on Willis’ desk Sept. 26. The Washington State Department of Agriculture is also providing a letter of support.

“This is what we can do now for farmers to help alleviate some of the stressful situation on crop conditions,” Hennings said.

Source: Matthew Weaver, Capital Press

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