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Published January 16, 2012, 05:55 PM

Sen. Conrad proposes to simplify crop insurance

FARGO, N.D. — Federal crop insurance is essential to U.S. agriculture, but the insurance can be made simpler and easier to implement to use, Sen. Kent Conrad, D.N.D., said Monday.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Federal crop insurance is essential to U.S. agriculture, but the insurance can be made simpler and easier to implement, Sen. Kent Conrad, D.N.D., said Monday.

Conrad proposes to combine the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) and Average Crop Revenue Election, or ACRE, crop insurance programs into a single, streamlined program that protects against what he called “shallow losses.”

Conrad spoke at the annual North Dakota State University Extension Service Crop Insurance Conference in Fargo. About 225 people, most of them involved in the crop insurance industry, attended.

“Crop insurance forms the base” of farmers’ risk protection, Conrad said. Typically, crop insurance protects against catastrophic loss. More is needed to protect against smaller, or shallow losses, he said.

Both ACRE have been widely criticized by farmers as too complicated.

The U.S. farm bill, which is the federal government’s main agricultural and food policy tool, is up for reauthorization, and many in ag fear that federal crop insurance could see big spending cuts.

Conrad, Senate Budget Committee chairman and a frequent critic of the growing federal deficit, said that massive cuts to the federal crop program would be a big mistake. Federal crop insurance is a partnership of private companies, which deliver insurance products and services to farmers, and the federal government, which subsidizes the cost of the insurance premiums.

U.S, agriculture provides both a secure supply of affordable food and badly needed exports, Conrad said. He urged people in agriculture to stick together against critics.

“We have a lot of folks who aren’t for us: the East and West Coast media elites who are after us almost every day. And of course you have a ton of lobbyists who are after us almost every day,” Conrad said

Other speakers Monday in Fargo included William Murphy, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency. Last year North Dakota farmers insured crops worth about $6 billion, on which claims of about $1.5 billion were paid. Extremely wet conditions at planting time in 2011 caused fewer fields to be planted and hurt many of the crops that were planted.

Currently, corn and soybeans account for about 75 percent of the value of crops insured through federal crop insurance, he said.

The Risk Management Agency, which helps U.S. farmers manage risk, is working to expand the crops covered by federal crop insurance, he said.

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