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Interest in Crop Insurance for Specialty and Organic Crops Grows as Options Expand

The number of agricultural producers who purchase crop insurance for their specialty and organic crops continues to climb, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) attributes to its work with producers and agricultural groups in recent years to create new crop insurance options, to expand and improve current options and to support local food efforts.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) recently released reports on specialty crops, organic crops, local food production and greenhouse production, which highlighted insurance options improvements for specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and horticulture crops, as well as organic crops. Some improvements were directed by the 2018 Farm Bill, while others resulted from producer feedback and research.

“We recognize the necessity to adapt insurance options to meet agricultural producers’ needs. Our work in recent years to support specialty crop and organic producers shows our commitment to America’s farmers and ranchers,” RMA Acting Administrator Richard Flournoy said. “Specialty crop and organic producers play a pivotal role in providing fresh, local and healthful food and fiber to our nation.”

From 1990 to 2020, liabilities for insured specialty crops rose from $1 billion to more than $20 billion.

Similarly, from 2010 to 2020, liabilities for insured organic crops rose from $207 million to more than $1.7 billion, and the number of policies has more than doubled. Additionally, RMA and third-party groups continue to refine existing policies and create new ones where there are gaps.

Broadened or Improved Insurance Options

  • WFRP: Beginning in the 2021 crop year, direct market producers could report two or more commodities using a new combined direct marketing code. This reduced a tremendous burden for diversified producers. Direct market commodities are sold by the farmer directly to the consumer, such as specialty or organic crops sold at farmers markets. The 2018 Farm Bill directed this change to WFRP.
  • Hemp: A multi-peril hemp insurance program was made available in the 2020 crop year and was expanded this past year to include more states and counties as well as being better synchronized with other program, reporting and billing dates.

Pandemic Assistance

The pandemic created challenges for producers to meet with their crop insurance agent to report mandatory records, submit applications, collect signatures and more. To assist, RMA provided several flexibilities, including one for organic producers, enabling them to report acreage as organic as long as the organic certification was requested. RMA is making this a permanent policy change, recognizing that it helps both organic producers and certifying agencies because organic certification does not necessarily coincide with crop insurance dates and cycles.

Research and Other Initiatives

  • Apples: RMA is proposing changes to apple crop insurance to strengthen policy language and address vulnerabilities. This change is after review and feedback that began in 2018.
  • Greenhouse: RMA contracted a study to determine the feasibility of insuring production in a controlled environment like a greenhouse. Based on the results of the study, RMA intends to work collaboratively with the contractor in developing a new inventory-based crop insurance product which establishes the guarantee based on inventory values in the operation, like RMA’s Nursery Value Select program. This will be accomplished through a single-peril policy that covers disease, which the contractor determined to be the primary risk for controlled environment producers.
  • Guar: RMA is working with a contractor to gather data and develop a viable program for guar, a drought-tolerant annual legume that has historically been used for both food and feed. Today, the crop is primarily grown for the gum from its seeds, which has several industrial and food processing applications. RMA expects to use information gathered from the contractor to develop a policy to be available for the 2023 crop year.
  • Local Foods: RMA contracted a study to assess the feasibility of insuring local food production.  The contractor provided several recommendations to improve coverage options for local food producers. Based on the results of the study, RMA is developing changes to WFRP with the needs of local food producers in mind.
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