Farmers sound off to RMA administrator
GREENWOOD, Del. — Delaware and Maryland farmers got a rare opportunity last week to voice concerns about the federal crop insurance program directly to the man charged with its administration.
Organized by King Crop Insurance agency and held at Allen Chorman and Son, Inc., the meeting brought Martin Barbre, USDA’s Risk Management Agency administrator and Illinois farmer, and Alex Sereno, director of RMA’s Raleigh Regional Office that serves the Mid-Atlantic region, face to face with farmers to discuss what is working with crop insurance and what could be improved.
“We understand it was a difficult growing season, and a lot of farmers in the area will be making claims this year,” Barbre said after the meeting. “Our goal was to listen to the producers and understand some of the issues they are facing.”
Welcoming more than 100 farmers, King Crop Insurance agent Donna King offered them a thank you for their efforts to feed the nation and world.
In the week following Thanksgiving, she said many farmers were working on the holiday — either on their own farms or a neighbor’s — to take advantage of good weather before yet another round of field soaking rain.
“It warms my heart to know that I’m in a room with a group of people who look out for one another,” she said.
Realizing the conversation with farmers may skew more to what needs improving in crop insurance, King Crop Insurance agent Jackie King reminded the attendees of some positives the program’s multi-peril policy covers a broad range of natural occurring events; the cost-share component between farmers and taxpayers means it’s not an entitlement program for farmers and helps to provide a secure and affordable food system, and there is less than 0.01 percent instance of fraud, waste and abuse of the program.
“That’s a testament to you all,” Jackie said. “I think that’s a big deal.”
Barbre and Sereno welcomed all comments about the programs.
“Feel free. Our feelings aren’t hurt if you tell us we’re coming up short,” said Sereno. “The biggest challenge is we don’t know what we don’t know.”
In the 100-minute, frank but friendly conversation, issues discussed ranged from adding more crops to the RMA’s coverage, frustrating restrictions in double cropping systems and crop grading standards.
With many crops grown in the region, from processing vegetables to commodity grains, farmers said there are opportunities to diversify to other crops, and even it is a general practice in the geographic area, if it isn’t in their crop history or approved for coverage in their county, not getting it insured can be a barrier.
“This is what we really need to find a way of addressing,” said Greenwood farmer, Richard Wilkins. “The product is not working for those farmers who want to diversify their operation.”
Barbre said he’s realizing how diverse the region’s agriculture is and will look into the possibilities of change.
“I’m not going to say we can, I’m saying I don’t know why we can’t,” Barbre said. “I guarantee I’m going to look at it.”
Sereno and Barbre said expanding coverage to more crops for an area can take about two years to gather data and go through the review process.
Farmers said changes in past Farm Bill’s have made it difficult to respond to market forces which can make using crop insurance counter productive is some cases.
“That’s how you make decisions, by what the market tells you,” said Greenwood farmer, Richard Carlyle.
Barbre said he’s open to looking at what could be done to make improvements but RMA could be restricted, too.
“If it’s not part of the federal statute we can work on it,” he said. “If it is we can’t.”
Wheat quality has suffered throughout the region in recent years with high vomitoxin levels and Cecil county, Md., farmer Jonathan Quinn said many times the damage doesn’t drop yield past indemnity levels but the dockages at the elevator drops the price considerably.
“That’s when you’re hoping your crop insurance is coming in to cover you,” Quinn said. “But it isn’t.”
Many farmers noted discrepancies between grain samples taken for crop insurance and samples taken at elevators where the elevator’s samples show more damage.
Barbre said he would consult with the Federal Grain Inspection Service as to why multiple grading standards are used.
Wrapping up the discussion, Barbre, who became RMA administrator in April said it was helpful to hear the farmers’ concerns.
“We had a great meeting and the producers were open and honest with us. The discussion was very productive and we learned a lot. We ‘d like to use what we heard here to continue to improve to the crop insurance program,” he said
King Crop Insurance agent Nancy King who met Barbre in August at a crop insurance conference and invited him to meet with Delaware and Maryland growers, said the meeting was helpful in showing the officials the specific challenges farmers in the area face.
“Mid-Atlantic agriculture is unique — the crops are diverse and challenges of farming are different than the big-I states,” Nancy said. “Administrator Barbre and Director Sereno took note and listened. I think they walked away with a better understanding of why some key issues need to be addressed and most important a willingness to find ways to improve the program to meet the diversity of our farming environment.”
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