Relief change shocks some
Only farmers who purchased crop insurance are eligible
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Even if Gov. Chris Gregoire gets disaster relief for 29 Washington counties, many farmers will not be eligible for help.
That's because they never signed up for crop insurance.
Under the 2008 Farm Bill, farmers are required to purchase crop insurance or noninsured disaster assistance programs, or NAP, before a disaster occurs, said Judy Olson, Washington Farm Service Agency's state executive director.
"Disaster assistance isn't what it used to be," she said. "In order to be eligible, producers need to plan ahead and purchase either regular crop insurance or NAP coverage for any economically significant crop they raise."
Noninsured assistance programs cover crops that do not have coverage under regular crop insurance, Olson said. It does not assist producers who have not purchased insurance.
In the past, farmers could apply after a disaster for funds approved by Congress.
"There are a lot of governors and producers who still haven't quite figured out there's a big change in the way they qualify for disaster assistance or disaster relief," Olson said.
Producers who don't typically do business with the agencies may not be aware of the changes, Olson said.
Gregoire is asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for disaster relief for the counties due to late spring drought conditions and early frosts in 2010. If approved and producers have a loss, they are eligible for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments program.
The agencies' review of counties across Washington state and the crops insured showed that most farmers in Eastern Washington with major commodities are participating in the insurance programs, but those who grow specialty crops, particularly on the westside of the state, are not participating as much.
"Our participation numbers are increasing, but they're significantly lower than we'd like to see," said Dave Paul, director for the Risk Management Agency's Spokane office.
The agencies are reaching out to growers about the changes.
Paul's office also oversees Alaska, Idaho and Oregon, and there are similar concerns in those states, he said.
In Oregon's Klamath Basin, he said, a shortage of water affected forage in 2010. About 5 percent of the forage crop was insured, leaving 95 percent of producers who had not purchased insurance ineligible for a likely payment under the supplemental revenue assistance program.
The deadline is past for farmers to sign up for crop insurance for the 2010 crop year. Deadlines for 2011 crop insurance are coming up, with sales closing deadlines Aug. 31 and Sept. 30.
There are no other options for farmers who miss the crop insurance deadlines, Olson said.
"There's literally nothing we can do about it," she said. "We urge producers to think ahead as they're planning for the next year and consider what the risks might be of some kind of a natural disaster."