In farming, it’s important to expect the unexpected.

Wind, hail, fire, too much or too little moisture, pests, disease. Any one of these factors can impact the quantity and quality of a crop.

That’s where crop insurance comes in.

“Crop insurance allows a producer to insure a crop based on his own history,” said George Harris, a senior insurance agent with Northwest Farm Credit Services. “The program is subsidized by the federal government, which makes it cost-effective for the producers and allows a guarantee for the farmer to protect his crops against natural-related causes of loss.”

As an example, Harris mentions a case in which rain at harvest time caused cherries to split.

“The grower would be paid indemnity for the loss on the cherries,” he said. “If a producer did not have crop insurance there is nothing there for him. The farm has to absorb the loss.”

Crop insurance is typically not mandatory — growers have to decide what level of risk they’re willing to take on. It can be cyclical, though.

“A lot of times, you’ll see a participation rate go up when a new policy is introduced because of the publicity,” Harris said. “But if they go a few years without claims, that drops off. Then we have a catastrophic event and some growers are paid out, you’ll see the participation rate go back up.”

Crop insurance for wheat is its own special case due to market protection.

“When wheat is up high, you’ll see the participation rate go up because what goes up must come down,” Harris said.

This year has seen some changes for crop insurance options. The 2014 Farm Bill introduced a new program called Whole Farm Revenue Protection, which will replace adjusted gross revenue coverage.

This type of insurance covers all the crops that a grower is producing and looks at the total gross revenue of that producer using a historical average based on five years of tax history.

“This allows producers to insure an anticipated income,” Harris said. “They can insure as much as 85 percent of that revenue. As a person goes through a harvest, if their crops fall below the guarantee, then they’re paid a loss.

“This gives them not only a market protection but also protection against market fluctuation and yield loss.”

Sales closing dates for Whole Farm Revenue Protection plans is March 15.

“In the Willamette Valley with all of its specialty crops, that will be a very popular policy,” Harris said. “Many of them don’t have a federally subsidized crop insurance plan.”

These plans, which are available in all counties in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, can insure a farm for up to an $8.5 million liability.

Some other crop insurance changes in the Farm Bill include a supplemental coverage option available for wheat, an increase in coverage level by practice and an expansion in the organic options for many crops.

“Now, irrigated and non-irrigated crops can have separate coverage levels, which is very powerful,” Harris said.

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