WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2016 - The Whole Farm Revenue Protection program isn’t perfect, but it’s getting a better as more and more producers sign up to insure farms where several different crops are grown, supporters say.
The “revised” farm bill pilot program is only in its second year, but coverage has already doubled from year one, Risk Management Agency Associate Administrator Tim Gannon said in a recent interview with Agri-Pulse. The program was previously known as Adjusted Gross Revenue and Adjusted Gross Revenue-Lite and was originally implemented in 1999 with limited success.
The current program, designed both to entice farmers to diversify their crops and provide protection for producers who couldn’t find the insurance they needed from other programs, has gotten its share of criticism, but the agency is adapting, Gannon said.
“I think they could be described as growing pains,” Gannon said of the problems. “I don’t think any policy should be judged on its first two years.”
Gannon said RMA has made several improvements, after some initial rough spots, that resulted in increased enrollments. About 1,100 policies under the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program were issued in 2015, providing about $1 billion in coverage, Gannon said. That increased to about 2,300 policies and $2.3 billion in coverage so far this year.
“It’s still not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s continuing to trend upwards,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. NSAC is a big supporter of Whole Farm insurance because it promotes diversification of agricultural production.
There are still some fixes needed, though, Hoefner told Agri-Pulse, including reducing the paperwork involved and making it easier for beginning farmers to get a policy.
At the start of the program, farmers needed a minimum of five years of planting history to apply for a policy, Hoefner said. RMA has dropped that to four.
“That helps, but it doesn’t really solve the problem, and we’re encouraging (RMA) to think creatively,” he said.
After several discussions with agency officials, Hoefner said he’s optimistic that it’ll be easier for beginning farmers to sign up by next summer when the new crop insurance year starts.
Perhaps a bigger problem, he said, is that for the private crop insurers who sell the policies, the payoff isn’t worth the effort. The return for the agent is essentially the same as with a normal crop insurance policy, but a Whole Farm Revenue policy can take as much as five times as much time to write up. Producers need to provide their tax returns as part of the application process.
“They need to come up with a different formula,” Hoefner said. If USDA and the insurance companies don’t work one out in the next standard reinsurance agreement, Hoefner said NSAC would likely draw up a provision and try to have it included in the next farm bill.
Tom Driscoll, director of conservation policy and education for the National Farmers Union, agreed the program needs improvement, but stressed that it is doing well and is likely to continue expanding.
“Since the product is kind of complicated, farmers don’t always know to ask for it, and if you combine that with agents who are not as excited to offer it, that’s a real obstacle,” Driscoll told Agri-Pulse.
But obstacles are not keeping the program from thriving, he said.
“I understand it’s growing quickly along the (West) coast, but there’s room for further dramatic growth throughout the middle of the country too,” Driscoll said.
Despite some of the problems, Hoefner also stressed that Whole Farm insurance is a needed program that offers coverage to producers like organic farmers who couldn’t previously get a policy because the value they need to insure isn’t covered by traditional crop insurance.
And it’s also good for the earth, he said, because it supports crop diversification, which is key to “improving the environment from a water quality, soil health and climate change standpoint.”
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