Farmers, farm groups told they need more unity

FARGO, N.D. -- Supporters of federal crop insurance need to show greater unity, particularly as work on the 2012 farm bill intensifies, Jeff Harrison and Bob Haney say.

FARGO, N.D. -- Supporters of federal crop insurance need to show greater unity, particularly as work on the 2012 farm bill intensifies, Jeff Harrison and Bob Haney say.

"It really bugs me when I hear a farmer or a farm group talk smack" about federal crop insurance, Harrison said.

Harrison and Haney 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 associated with the crop insurance industry, attended.

Haney is chief executive officer of Johnston, Iowa-based Rain and Hail, which writes federal crop insurance nationwide.

Harrison, a lawyer and lobbyist, is a member of Combest Sell & Associates, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. It was founded by Larry Combest, a former Republican congressman from Texas and House Agriculture Committee chairman, and Tom Sell, once the deputy staff director for the House Agriculture Committee.


Combest Sell & Associates' clients include the Crop Insurance Professionals Association, said Harrison, a native of Bluffton, Minn., in Otter Tail County.

Congress, facing a huge and growing federal budget deficit, is looking at ways to cut spending. Federal crop insurance is a potential target, especially as Congress works on a new farm bill, which is up for reauthorization this year.

Federal crop insurance is sold and serviced by private companies. The federal government subsidizes the program to keep it affordable.

Supporters of federal crop insurance shouldn't be shy about promoting it, Harrison said.

"We have a great program. We have a great story to tell," he said.

'Fractures' in support

But both Harrison and Haney pointed to "fractures" in U.S. agriculture over federal crop insurance and the 2012 farm bill.

Critics of federal crop insurance help to create and expand those fractures, Harrison said.


Lack of unity in both the crop insurance industry and farm groups is a challenge in the 2012 farm bill, he said.

Haney was asked to provide examples of fractured support, but he said he didn't have a good answer.

But there always have been splits in U.S. agriculture, he said.

One such traditional fracture is between agriculture in the Northern and Southern United States, he said.

Other rifts involve food vs. cotton, feed vs. fuel and Midwestern corn vs. non-Midwestern corn, Haney said. Harrison noted there is discontent among ag producers "well-served" and "underserved" by federal crop insurance. The well-served include corn growers, who think their premiums are too high, while the underserved include rice and peanut growers.

Harrison urged supporters of federal crop insurance to get involved with work on the 2012 farm bill. He recommended that supporters:

• Work with their Congressional delegation to be seen as "a reliable resource."

• Promote unity among both crop insurance companies and customers.


• Complain about "bad press," particularly if it's "friendly fire," including negative publicity from media in areas such as eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota where federal crop insurance is especially important.

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