As the new administrator of the Risk Management Agency, Marcia Bunger is a case study in firsts
She is the first member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and the first woman to serve as RMA Administrator. She is the first farm woman to actually work as a crop insurance agent before being named to oversee the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and the approved insurance providers who sell and service federal crop insurance policies in every state and in Puerto Rico through a unique public-private partnership. As a county executive director for the Farm Service Agency in South Dakota, she was unique in her work with the Pine Ridge Tribal Government leaders to administer FSA programs on the second largest land based Indian Reservation in the U.S.
And she’s humble about her role and her opportunity, both as an advocate for risk management and a role model for other women and minorities.
In an exclusive interview with Agri-Pulse on the sidelines of this year’s crop insurance industry conventions, we asked about how she hopes her personal story could impact other women in agriculture. She clearly wants to be an inspiration to others in ag and encourage them to not give up on any dreams they have.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think about (my opportunities) being involved as a farm mother, a farm girl. You know, the days when you were outside and it's 110 degrees and you're fixing fence; the days that it's 20 below and you're taking care of livestock. And then also, when the 1980’s came, we had the farm bill crisis and I had to go back to work with small children.”
Bunger said her early work at the county FSA office helped her learn how to balance family and career and also fueled her drive to become a county office director, even though it didn’t come without sacrifices.
“It's not something that happens overnight for anybody. But I hope that because I have reached this pinnacle in my career, that it's an inspiration to women, especially in ag, to not give up the dreams that they may have,” she added.
“You just never know. Put your nose to the grindstone and get the experiences that may someday lead you to something that you never thought could happen.”
Bunger says she understands why some people question why her agency can’t make what may seem like simple, common-sense changes but many times, officials are actually prohibited by law or limited to their respective agencies. However, she says her RMA staff are always open to discussions about making improvements. And they are still working on data collection.
“There’s a lot of information contained at FSA, RMA, and AIPs, and the flow of information hasn't occurred yet. But I think we are now to that plateau. We have the technology that we could start to possibly consider sharing some information.”
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Bunger and her husband farm about 2,000 acres in South Dakota and she is very appreciative of the role crop insurance has played in her family’s ability to keep farming through good times and bad.
She described crop insurance as “vitally important to the farmers and ranchers of this country” and suggested that a typical farmer has about 50 times to keep going, despite crop failures and weather disasters.
“Think about that. Fifty times is all he gets to try. And so crop insurance provides that opportunity in those bad years that he can be there for the next year.”
Looking ahead, Bunger says she hopes to educate producers who might not have a lot of experience with crop insurance and help them secure credit when needed.
She wants USDA Risk Management to work toward assisting underserved communities in a fashion that they are able to access crop insurance, and also get money from their lenders to secure operating loans.
“My desire is to ensure that all producers, whether they're growing beans, pistachios, cabbage, etc. ….. that they all have options and great policies,” she added.
Bunger noted that the 2018 farm bill shifted some outreach programming. She welcomed submissions before the March 11 deadline for over $2 million in funding opportunities for risk management education.
She also took advantage of the industry events to promote another round of USDA’s Pandemic Cover Crop Program, where producers with crop insurance who plant a cover crop in 2022 can receive $5/acre in premium support.
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