BY TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. - With sections of the 2018 Farm Bill still being rolled out to farmers, many questions remain unanswered. On Tuesday, January 28, a longtime crop agency manager for Country Financial came to Peoria to host an update on changes within the new farm bill.
But first, those who attended the presentation at the Peoria County Farm Bureau auditorium heard a little about the record-shattering number of prevented planting insurance claims fielded by Country Financial in 2019.
“According to the USDA we more than doubled our all time U.S.-wide prevent plant records,” said Doug Yoder, who said he has offered crop insurance and farm bill updates for years but had never seen a year like 2019 in Illinois. “In Illinois, 1.5 million acres of some of the best dirt in the world was not planted last year. That was third in the nation (behind South Dakota and Ohio, respectively), and a significant event.”
Country Financial agents issued $45.5 million in prevented planting indemnities in 2019, shattering the company’s previous prevent plant payout record of $8.9 million in 2013. “We didn’t just set the record, we set it by a factor of five,” Yoder said.
Continuing on to the 2018 Farm Bill, Yoder highlighted several changes and additions to the legislation, including catastrophic coverage changes, the Veteran Farmer or Rancher (VFR) program, cover crop insurance, Area Risk Protection Insurance (ARPI) changes, soybean earliest planting date changes, federal hemp insurance and others.
“We’ve had bigger changes in past farm bills, but there are some good changes here,” Yoder began. “First, very few farmers in Illinois continue to buy CAT, or catastrophic coverage, and I think the government is sending a message by more than doubling the fee from $300 to $655. I think they are trying to tell us to look for better coverage. CAT is 50 percent coverage level, so you have to lose that crop before coverage kicks in-- and the claim only pays 55 percent.”
There are a brand new set of benefits within the farm bill for farmers and ranchers who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, Yoder continued: “The 2014 Farm Bill offered these same benefits to beginning farmers, to qualify for crop insurance benefits. A lot of beginning farmers and ranchers have taken advantage of these benefits in the past five years, and the 2018 Farm Bill extends these same benefits to veterans.”
To be eligible, veterans must have been honorably discharged from a branch of service within the past five years. Crop insurance policy fees are waived and crop insurance premiums are subsidized by ten percent for those determined to be eligible, among other benefits. “The idea is to allow (veterans) to afford better coverage quicker than otherwise,” said Yoder.
As for cover crops, the 2018 Farm Bill mandated changes to their treatment for insurance purposes. The USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA), in conjunction with Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, developed new guidelines and policy provisions regarding cover crop termination and crop insurance.
“You must terminate your cover crop by a certain date. If you don’t, the government could consider your cover crop (to be) the first crop growing on that ground, and if you later plant corn on that ground, they could consider corn your double-crop. And no one can insure double-crop corn in Illinois,” Yoder cautioned. “Make sure you know your termination date.”
A change in farm bill data collection sources means that ARPI plans will begin using RMA data instead of USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data in 2020. This will eliminate the dependency on NASS to operate the program and publish the same yields-- both expected and final-- for both SCO and ARPI. This should improve accuracy, but also delay the release of county yield results, according to Yoder.
In addition, the final planting date for insurable FAC (following another crop) soybeans has been moved back to July 5 from June 21, in 42 Illinois counties. The late planting period has also been changed to end on July 15. “This is the single best improvement in the 2018 Farm Bill, but it does you no good here in Peoria. In southern Illinois, this is a biggie,” Yoder said.
The earliest planting date for soybeans was also changed, from April 20 last year to April 15, 2020, for 29 Illinois counties, including Peoria County. “If you plant earlier than that date in your county, you can still insure those beans but you will not be eligible for government replant coverage on your federal policy,” said Yoder.
The 2018 Farm Bill is historic in that it decriminalizes commercial farming of hemp in the U.S. for the first time in decades and establishes a pilot crop insurance program for its production. The pilot program will provide Actual Production History (APH) coverage and Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) for eligible producers in certain counties of Illinois and 20 other states. The coverage will be available for hemp grown for fiber, grain or CBD oil for the 2020 crop year, but is not ready to be rolled out as of yet.
“On January 28 we are still waiting for the details of these programs, including eligible counties and how much this will cost you, but the government keeps saying ‘any day now,’” Yoder sighed. “My advice is that if you think you might at all be interested in federal crop insurance for industrial hemp for 2020, get with your agent as soon as possible so that they know your intentions and can keep you informed.”