Expanding coverage for all producers

Editor’s Note: Farm Policy Facts is pleased to publish a guest editorial from Brandon Willis on the successful efforts since the 2014 Farm Bill to expand risk management tools to more agricultural producers all across the country. Willis oversees the government agency that partners with private-sector companies to deliver crop insurance coverage that is a strong component of the farm safety net.

By: Brandon Willis

As the Administrator of the Risk Management Agency (RMA), I have the opportunity to talk to farmers and ranchers all across the nation about the federal crop insurance program. I am struck by how frequently they share with me the same message – that without crop insurance they would no longer be farming.

The program keeps family farms in the family, even after a bad year, and provides a safety net that allows beginning farmers to pursue their dream of farming. In addition, federal crop insurance provides access to credit and oftentimes lower loan interest rates, which makes obtaining the capital needed to farm more obtainable – especially for those who are just starting out.

Federal crop insurance has become an essential part of the farm safety net due to its ability to provide dependable protection and grow with the needs of farmers and ranchers. Congress recognized its importance by strengthening the program through the 2014 Farm Bill. New tools like the Supplemental Coverage Option and the Actual Production History Yield Exclusion were implemented as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill, providing new options for major row crops, as well as fruit and nut producers.

The number of acres covered by crop insurance has increased from 264.7 million in 2009 to 297.0 million in 2015. The variety of crops covered increased as well, going from 438 in 2009 to 543 in 2015. RMA estimates that 85 percent of planted acreage for major crops is now covered by crop insurance. Even with coverage for most crops greater than ever before, RMA has continued to listen to farmers and ranchers and expand options that meet the needs of diverse farm operations nationwide.

By working with stakeholders, RMA developed Whole­Farm Revenue Protection as a way for smaller diversified producers to insure all of the crops and livestock on their farm under one policy. This policy was first offered in 2015, and by 2016 it was available in every county of every state in the country. Its nationwide coverage is a first for federal crop insurance.

In addition to expanding programs, RMA recently announced changes that will offer American farmers greater flexibility with crop decisions. Some of these modifications relate to the practice of double cropping. Other options provide flexibility for organic producers and those transitioning to organic – a traditionally difficult time for producers to find coverage that matches the costs and price expectations of their commodities.

In order to provide the crop insurance options that work for all producers, the Agency must ensure that its programs are well run. We took steps to cut the Agency’s improper payment rate by more than 50 percent, down from 5.58 percent in 2014 to 2.2 percent in 2015. That figure is half the government average of 4.39 percent. And, by taking further steps, there will continue to be stronger oversight of program dollars.

As farming and farm products change to meet market needs, crop insurance will continue to adapt and expand to meet the needs of our producers. Whether it’s through improvements to existing programs or the introduction of new products, RMA will do its part to find additional ways to strengthen the farm safety net for our rural communities.

Brandon Willis serves as the Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA).