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Inside Washington

Farm groups seek additional disaster aid

Wet harvest conditions adding insult to injury to areas in northern-tier states.

In a year that continues to bring mayhem, many farmers in northern-tier states are currently seeing serious crop damage caused by an unusual wave of harsh, adverse weather, heavy rains, flooding and high humidity, coming directly in the middle of this year’s harvest season. Agricultural groups are asking Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to make Wildfires & Hurricanes Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) assistance available to growers in the region.

In a letter signed by the American Soybean Assn., National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Assn., National Farmers Union, National Sunflower Assn., U.S. Canola Assn., U.S. Dry Bean Council and USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, the groups asked that the U.S. Department of Agriculture make available the fullest appropriate disaster assistance under WHIP+ as well as under other applicable USDA programs. Additionally, they urged Perdue to provide flexibility in the crop insurance program to assist growers who face severe quality problems and who might not be able to harvest their crop because of abnormal weather conditions.

In announcing WHIP+ in the Federal Register in September, the provisions allowed coverage for all crops experiencing “qualifying disaster events,” which are defined to include flooding and related conditions occurring in calendar years 2018 and 2019, in counties that receive presidential or secretarial disaster/emergency designations or in other counties where a farmer can document the disaster event.

The letter noted that the WHIP+ regulation appears to exclude quality losses from the program (except for wine grapes), providing that the quantity or value of a crop “will not be reduced for any quality consideration unless a zero value” is established. “We believe this is an arbitrary distinction that may seriously disadvantage grain producers in the northern and central Plains directly affected by the weather disasters targeted by the program,” the letter stated. "Quality losses caused by excess rains, floods and resulting crop diseases are just as real, tangible and immediate to producers as any other form of crop damage -- a fact that prompted Congress to include language in last year’s 2018 farm bill mandating USDA’s Risk Management Agency to improve its grain quality coverage."

The letter explained that the quality-related damage now unfolding across a wide swath of small grain country is extreme. In some instances, farmers are receiving less than half of the elevator price for their grain -- if local markets will take it at all -- as a result of weather-induced quality loss. Crop insurance is available for growers, but depending on the coverage level and yield, the adjustment under crop insurance policies to account for quality loss might sharply limit any potential indemnity, or not trigger one at all, despite the very real damage resulting from low prices for the grain.

“We urge USDA to provide assistance through WHIP+ or other mechanisms to growers suffering significant quality loss resulting from excessive moisture,” the letter said. “In doing so we ask that the price impacts of this quality loss be considered, including situations where a grower either has no market in which to sell poor-quality grain or the grower must take a significant price reduction.”

TAGS: Policy
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