Eighty-six percent of all planted U.S. farmland – some 281 million acres – is protected by crop insurance this year, up 2 percent from 2011 and a nearly three-fold increase from the late 1990s when only about 30 percent of farmers purchased policies, according to data from USDA’s Risk Management Agency.
The growth in coverage has been fueled by a number of factors, including fewer federal risk management alternatives for farmers, many farmers’ desire to have increased control of their risk management choices, federally-funded premium subsidies for those who purchase policies, a wide array of policy options and the value banks place on crop insurance when making loans.
But many would argue that private sector crop insurance agents, who operate largely on commission for the policies they sell, should be included in that list as well. Ruth Gerdes, a farmer and crop insurance agent from Auburn, Nebraska, nearly lost the land that she and her husband were farming 28 years ago and decided that other farmers needed to learn more about the benefits of crop insurance to avoid a similar brush with foreclosure.
One of the undeniable factors behind the growth of crop insurance, according to Gerdes, is “a motivated workforce” of agents. “We all strive to provide a quality service,” she said, adding that in an industry where premiums are decided by the government, the only way agents can distinguish themselves is through superior customer service.
“We all work to know the products and markets and are willing to be called upon at all hours when disaster strikes,” she said. Gerdes explained that agents, who are often farmers, or have farmed themselves, take great pride in their work and want their customers – the farmers – to be happy with both the insurance products they purchase as well as the service the agents provide. “And of course, part of it also is because we want the producer’s business again the next year,” she added.
Gerdes argues that “this competitive business model is good for the farmer and good for the system,” which is evident by the ever-increasing number of new crop insurance products developed, which today protect 128 different crops.
In 2012, some 1.2 million crop insurance polices were sold, covering 128 different crops. While 84 percent of the polices sold covered corn (34 percent), soybeans (31 percent) and wheat (19 percent), policies were also written for specialty crops including cherries, almonds, cranberries and avocados.