September 1, 2006
By Mike Barnett
In the midst of a record drought, Texas Farm Bureau and other organization leaders, producers, Cooperative Extension experts and representatives from USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) gathered together in Kingsville recently to try to put some South Texas farm sense into crop insurance programs.
"Federal budget reconciliation efforts are reducing farm payments. We see WTO (World Trade Organization) discussions, talks and sanctions and are now discussing the 2007 farm bill," said TFB District 13 State Director Bobby Nedbalek, one of the program organizers, with District 10 Director Tommy Boehme and District 12 Director Arthur Bluntzer also in attendance. "So we see in the future, it's obvious crop insurance is going to play a bigger role in agriculture as we operate in South Texas. We want to lay some things out on the table, talk about crop insurance and see how we can make it better."
Of greatest concern to Jeff Nunley, executive director of the South Texas Cotton and Grain Association, was the amount of time from the final planting date until the crop can be appraised and released for insurance for non-emerged cotton.
Nunley recalled that in 2002, growers faced a situation similar to this year.
"It was extremely dry, we had cotton that wasn't coming up and we started contacting RMA very early in the year, saying we needed to get some kind of exception to shorten that deferred appraisal date so we could go ahead and get that stuff appraised and released," Nunley said. "It was primarily because we were very early in our boll weevil eradication program. We were unsuccessful at that but RMA has shown that they are willing to make changes.
"And they did make a change that year for part of the state of Texas. Unfortunately, because we're in South Texas, things affect us earlier than they do in most areas. We were impacted by the drought earlier in the year than most of the rest of the nation."
Nunley said RMA also made a change this year in the High Plains, reducing the late planting period from 15 days to seven. Now High Plains producers have a seven day late planting period and an eight day deferred appraisal period. From the time of their final planting date they have a 15 day wait until the crop can be appraised and released.
Nunley suggested a common policy provision across Texas for a seven day late planting period.
"Something that is a little different here than in the Plains is we face a drop dead date of Sept. 1 in this area for crop destruction of cotton," Nunley said. "That's a state statute. If you look at the time for the final planting date until Sept. 1 and take out the seven day planting period and the eight day deferral, I think you'll see there's not enough time for a crop that comes up in the deferred appraisal period or after that date to give us a chance to make a crop."
Bringing a consensus opinion from farmers he met with in San Patricio County, Charles Ring suggested that the current waiting period and adjustment rates are inappropriate for the Coastal Bend.
"We request that the final planting date be set at April 10 and no later than April 15." he said, "Since most crops will be planted in compliance with the final planting date, and emergence will occur in seven days, these fields should be adjusted seven days after the final planting date."
Ring brought other suggestions to the table, including:
The current plant count method of adjusting take into consideration the manageability of variations in plant growth stages for determining yield potential.
An evaluation of cotton be made the first week of July to determine the yield potential;
The late planting penalty be eliminated.
Nueces County Farm Bureau President Scott Frazier noted the 2002 farm bill was supposed to have crop insurance reforms or changes made to take care of natural disasters.
"We have received counter-cyclical payments and things like that but as far as I know locally, we haven't seen anything significantly change on the way our crop insurance is administered, as far as plans and the coverage levels that are meaningful to us," he said.
Frazier, who farms near Bishop, said most producers in his area carry 65, maybe 70 percent coverage levels.
"If we could afford to carry greater coverage levels, up to 80, 85 even 90 percent coverage levels, at an affordable rate, I think most producers would do it and then it would act as more of a true safety net for agriculture," Frazier said.
One of the biggest gripes of farmers in his area has been the inconsistent interpretation of the rules, Frazier said.
"Most producers aren't out there trying to do things wrong or do things to break the law or commit fraud," he noted. "They're trying to take care of their business and do what is economically feasible and in their best interest. And it makes it difficult when these rules are interpreted different from company to company or RMA to insurance company to adjuster to whoever it is."
Low appraisals, he said, are another concern. He asked RMA to consider a program where 20 or 25 percent of a farmer's APH or less be counted as zero and not dock producers for small yields.
"If you could save your harvest cost plus not getting docked for little bitty, tiny yields, you'd probably be in pretty good shape to take your insurance check then," Frazier said.