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Conrad: 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 use, said Sen. Kent Conrad, D.N.D.,

Conrad proposes to combine the SURE and ACRE crop insurance programs into a single, streamlined program that protects against what he called "shallow losses."

Conrad spoke Jan. 16 in Fargo, N.D., at the annual North Dakota State University Extension Service Crop Insurance Conference. 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, or Average Crop Revenue Election, and SURE, or Supplemental Revenue Assurance, 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 premium.

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.

Last year, North Dakota farmers insured crops worth about $6 billion, on which claims of about $1.5 billion were paid, according to information presented at the conference.

In contrast, farmers in the state in 2010 insured crops worth about $4 billion, on which claims of $442.3 million were paid.

Claims skyrocketed in 2011 because of the extremely wet spring that prevented many fields from being planted and hurt many of the crops that were planted.

The higher value of insured crops in 2011 reflects that crop prices generally were substantially higher that year than in 2010.