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Pilot crop insurance program expanded for sweet cherries

One specialty crop insurance program key to Michigan recently took a notable step forward. Limited to just two counties for the past decade as an experimental pilot program, crop insurance for sweet cherry farmers will now be available to growers in five more counties beginning in the 2013 crop year.

With the expansion, growers in Antrim, Benzie, Manistee, Mason and Oceana counties will now have access to crop insurance for their sweet cherry crops.

Key Points

• Seven counties, where most sweet cherries are grown, are now eligible.

• Tart cherry growers still do not have crop insurance options.

• U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow led effort to secure new crop insurance coverage.

Previously only growers in Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties had access to crop insurance, a vital risk-management tool commonplace among big-acreage field crops like corn, soybeans and wheat.

Limited control

Crop insurance programs are overseen by the USDA Risk Management Agency, which has limited flexibility in modifying or expanding existing options.

“RMA is allowed to expand crop insurance to cover areas that grow a commodity — they can amend and adjust an existing policy and expand its coverage — but they can’t create a new policy,” explains Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for Michigan Farm Bureau.

Alongside Phil Korson, president and managing director of the Michigan Cherry Marketing Institute, Farm Bureau worked directly with Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s staff to help move the program forward.

Stabenow’s insight and influence as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, author of the 2012 Farm Bill and her familiarity with the crop itself proved vital. “Sen. Stabenow urged the RMA to review where cherries are grown and got them to expand the pilot. That’s still short of covering all of Michigan’s sweet cherry farms, but it covers the majority of them,” Findlay says. “It’s a big step forward.

“Unfortunately, crop insurance for tart cherry farmers still doesn’t exist, and that remains a concern. RMA is aware of the issue and wants to work with the industry to make sure they have access to crop insurance in the future,” Findlay says. “We remain committed to working with RMA to continue expanding the program.”

Weather to blame

Disastrous weather conditions this spring devastated Michigan’s normally prodigious cherry crop, as well as most other tree fruits and juice grapes. Both sweet and tart cherries suffered catastrophic, near-total losses, spotlighting the limitations of available crop insurance options for such “specialty” crops.

“No farmer should be wiped out because of a few bad days of weather, and this new coverage will help Michigan’s growers manage their losses without losing the farm,” Stabenow said in her official release announcing the expansion.

“It is also critical that Congress complete work on our bipartisan farm bill to help provide short-term disaster relief and help Michigan growers protect themselves from these risks in the future. The expansion of crop insurance is welcome news for Michigan’s cherry growers who have not had the option of purchasing crop insurance to protect themselves from disasters like this year’s freezes and frosts.”

Farm bill’s rough draft

The Senate’s version of the 2012 Farm Bill, formally titled the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, includes provisions to make further disaster assistance available this year for Michigan fruit growers who did not have adequate access to crop insurance.

Developed under Stabenow’s leadership, the legislation would also dramatically expand farmers’ risk-management options by requiring the USDA to develop effective crop insurance for all fruit and vegetable growers.

Existing crop insurance offerings fall far short of covering every corner of Michigan’s wildly diverse agriculture industry. For only a handful of specialty crops — mostly fruits and vegetables — is insurance available, and even then only covers 60% to 75% of a crop’s value. Insurance availability also varies by location. Farmers growing otherwise insurable crops outside areas ideal for their cultivation don’t have access to insurance options other growers enjoy.

Source: Michigan Farm Bureau


Hanging on: Ed Raak (right), a fruit grower and owner of Dutch Farm Market in South Haven, along with his son, Jim, look over the abundance of tart cherries on last year’s crop. This year the crop was virtually nonexistent and, without crop insurance, a total loss for growers. A pilot crop insurance program for sweet cherries is being expanded, but a program for tart cherries is still in the making.

This article published in the October, 2012 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.