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VTDigger: Feds launch ag insurance program to help specialty farmers

January 1, 2015
In The News

Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and kale are among the most popular products at Vermont farmers’ markets. But until recently, these specialty crops have not been fully covered by the national crop insurance program.

And when Tropical Storm Irene spelled disaster for dozens of farms across the state in 2011, many fruit and vegetable farmers lost their entire harvest that year, and they had no way of recovering the losses.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, I-Vt., inserted language in the 2014 Farm Bill that enhances the federal agricultural insurance program known as the Noninsured Crop Disaster Program (NAP) and allows farmers who grow fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops to receive higher levels of insurance for their crops.

For some specialty products like berries, squash, or maple syrup, farmers were able to purchase plans through the NAP. But the program only covered catastrophic losses; it kicked in after more than half of the crop was destroyed. At that point, the program covered 55 percent of what was lost.

According to Adrienne Wojciechowski and Tom Berry, staffers in Leahy’s office, the shortcomings of the NAP became clear in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, when floodwaters inundated farm fields at the peak of harvest season.

Many farmers did not have insurance. Those that did have coverage under the NAP received modest payments, but they were not compensated for the full value of their crop losses.

Leahy and Welch began working on including language in the Farm Bill to provide aid to specialty crops in 2012. The NAP Buy Up program was adopted as part of the 2014 Farm Bill.

To illustrate the practical impact of the new program, Wojciechowski offered the example of a hypothetical farm that loses an eight-acre patch of tomatoes, valued at $169,009. Under standard NAP coverage, if the entire crop is destroyed, the farmer would receive a payment of $46,477. Under the NAP Buy-Up provision, the farmer would receive $109,856.

In a significant departure from traditional NAP coverage, the Buy-Up provision will help farmers recover from less significant losses. In addition to protecting farms in the event of storm damage, the program will help farmers recover when a bug infestation or an early frost takes a toll on the harvest.

The provision also offers fee waivers and premium reductions for farmers with limited resources. The reduced rates are part of an effort to ensure that farms are not wiped out by one bad weather event.

Farmers can run different insurance coverage scenarios for coverage through an online tool created by the USDA at www.fsa.usda.gov/nap.