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Published June 12, 2012, 11:28 AM

Crop insurance under fire

WASHINGTON — The American Association of Crop Insurers and the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau are urging the Senate to reject all the amendments that would change the crop insurance section of the farm bill but reform coalitions are urging the senators to consider passing them.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The American Association of Crop Insurers and the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau are urging the Senate to reject all the amendments that would change the crop insurance section of the farm bill but reform coalitions are urging the senators to consider passing them. The groups which represent crop insurance agents and companies, issued the statement on Monday.

“Farmers from across the country and the nation’s banking community are sending a unified message to Congress: Do no harm to crop insurance,” the groups said in a statement noting that the industry has already taken cuts through the 2008 farm bill and the latest standard reinsurance agreement. The statement addressed each of the four amendments separately.

“The Coburn-Durbin amendment harms crop insurance, and by extension, every farmer and rancher who participates in it,” the groups said. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would limit crop insurance subsidies for the wealthiest farmers.

“Means testing would take the least risky acres out of crop insurance, which would make the whole system less stable and increase taxpayers’ exposure to agricultural risk. And that could prove particularly punitive to small farms, specialty crop farms and beginning farms. Clearly, that is not the intent of the amendment, but that is the reality.”

The groups also targeted an amendment by Sen. Jean Shaheen, D-N.H., which would limit crop insurance premium subsidies.

The Shaheen amendment, the groups said, “targets the discounts that farmers and ranchers receive on their policies, and the cap proposed would affect a large number of growers, including many specialty crop producers and mid-size farms.”

Environmental considerations

The groups are also fighting an amendment by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., which would attach conservation requirements to crop insurance eligibility, saying that it “seeks to attach onerous environmental mandates to a farmer’s ability to acquire adequate crop insurance coverage from the private sector.”

“Such mandates would be nearly impossible to enforce without considerable cost,” the statement said. “That’s why nearly every major farm organization and the country’s lending community have vehemently opposed these unnecessary environmental regulations.”

The crop insurance organizations also said that any budget offset amendments “will have the unintended consequence of harming all producers, including fruit and vegetable growers, who have no other safety net but crop insurance.”

“By further weakening the country’s successful crop insurance infrastructure, such amendments would affect service, cost and reliability of purchased private-sector policies,” the statement said.

The groups did not mention the amendment offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., which would make cuts to crop insurance to strike the reduction in the food stamp program and increase funding for the fresh fruit and vegetable program. But an industry spokesman said the statement would apply to it and any other budget offset amendments that might be offered.

Meanwhile, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition sent a letter to its supporters June 8 urging them to call their senators in support of the Coburn-Durbin and Cardin amendments.

In addition, a coalition of groups wrote senators asking that they limit crop insurance subsidies to the largest farmers. The letter was signed by the Center for Rural Affairs, the Environmental Working Group, the National Farmers Union, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Oxfam America.

“We urge you to place limits on the federal crop insurance premium subsidies granted to individual farmers, establish income limits for subsidy recipients, and require that recipients be actively engaged in farming,” the letter said.

“We are a diverse group, including farm, rural, international and environmental organizations,” the letter said. “But we are united by the belief that America is best served by responsible policy that directs risk management assistance to farmers who need it and caps it at levels that do not subsidize the largest farms to drive out small, mid-size and beginning farmers, both here and abroad.”

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