HEADLINES & MEDIA
In the face of a ballooning federal deficit, Uncle Sam will come to the rescue of Florida farmers struggling to recover from last month’s brutal freezing weather. ”This will certainly help,” said David Boozer, executive director of the Florida Tropical Fish Farm Association Inc. in Winter Haven, responding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently designating 60 Florida counties as federal disaster areas. The list includes Polk and every neighboring county. The declaration opens up several low-interest loan programs to freeze-stricken farmers in those counties. Tropical fish farmers centered in Hillsborough and Polk counties suffered the biggest losses from the record-breaking streak of cold weather that hit most of the state in the first two weeks of the year. Boozer estimated a 75 percent loss of Florida’s tropical fish stocks.
Crop insurers say USDA’s proposed funding cuts to its crop-insurance program will cause their industry to downsize and shed jobs. USDA’s Risk Management Agency introduced a proposal in December for altering the agreement by which insurers deliver government-backed crop insurance. National Crop Insurance Services, an industry association, released its counter-proposal on Jan. 20, along with a critique of the cuts that RMA wants. ”The industry is deeply concerned with RMA’s initial draft of the 2011 (Standard Reinsurance Agreement) and is proposing a number of changes to reduce the highly detrimental impacts of the RMA proposal,” the association said in a statement.
A proposed $4 billion cut over five years to the USDA crop-insurance program’s contracting agreement with private insurance companies has prompted 10 commodity organizations to express their concerns in writing to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. USDA’s crop-insurance contracting agreement is called the Standard Reinsurance Agreement. The draft reduction the USDA is considering would be in addition to last year’s cut of $6.4 billion over 10 years and another $1.7 billion in cuts to other components of the farm safety net, the commodity coalition said in its letter. The organizations urged Vilsack “to promulgate an [agreement] that does not undermine the important gains made in crop insurance since… 2000, but instead further strengthens available risk management protections and broadens meaningful access.”
A news release issued on Monday by the National Farmers Union stated that, “Today, the National Farmers Union (NFU), in alliance with nine other national agricultural organizations, sent a letter to United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the draft Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA). “‘The consideration of a $4 billion cut to the crop insurance program over five years on top of several substantial cuts made last year concerns both producers and businesses,’ said Roger Johnson, NFU president. “The letter highlights the importance of prioritizing the protection of farmers’ viability, emphasizing that changes made should not negatively impact farmers and ranchers’ ability to access insurance products that are vital to their operations.”
Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to proceed with caution on changes to the federal crop insurance program given their potential impact on the lives of Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. In a bipartisan letter to USDA’s Rural Management Agency (RMA) Administrator William Murphy, Bennet said that the federal crop insurance program is a vital resource for the growth and sustainability of Colorado’s and the country’s agricultural economy.
The private crop insurance industry is blasting a proposed restructuring in the crop insurance program they say would cut $4 billion — or $800 million a year — over the next five years. The proposal, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Risk Management Agency (RMA), which manages the federal insurance program, would also impose as much as $100 million in additional costs on private insurers, according to the National Crop Insurance Services, which represents the 15 insurers participating in the public-private cooperative program.