Crop Insurance Basics: Specialty Crops
When you think of farming, you might first think of fields of corn sprawled across the Midwest. But America’s farmers grow many different types of fruits and vegetables, requiring a crop insurance program that is as diverse as the crops it protects.
Crop insurance is a customizable tool that allows America’s farmers and ranchers to create a risk management plan tailored to their needs. That means growers can be covered:
- If they grow row crops, such as corn or soybeans, or if they grow more than 130 other types of crops, such as chili peppers or sunflowers.
- If they farm conventional or organic.
- If they are part of a large or small farming operation.
- If they farm in Alaska, or Florida, or anywhere in between. Crop insurance protects more than 445 million acres and farmers in all 50 states.
Crop insurance has become the cornerstone of the farm safety net and provides every farmer with access to an affordable risk management tool. A new report from the Economic Research Service (ERS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that over the past two decades, the value of specialty crops protected by crop insurance has tripled. Total specialty crop liabilities have grown from $7 billion in 2000 to $21 billion in 2020. As ERS points out in their report, all farmers face risks, “but the nature of specialty crop production and marketing may heighten exposure to some of these risks.”
Crop insurance has expanded and improved over time, particularly for specialty crops or growers not adequately served by other risk management tools. For example, the 2014 Farm Bill included a new policy specifically meant to expand coverage options for diversified farming operations: Whole-Farm Revenue Protection. The introduction of Whole-Farm Revenue Protection offers diversified farmers – such as fruit and vegetable growers, and organic growers – more flexible, affordable risk management options.
Brian Campbell is a diversified produce farmer in Pennsylvania who credits crop insurance and the protection afforded by Whole-Farm Revenue Protection for his success. “If it wasn’t for whole farm revenue protection today, you know, I may not be at the size that I am,” Brian told National Crop Insurance Services.
Across the country, Lupe Guzman in California also relies on crop insurance to protect his family farming operation, which includes 1,300 acres of certified organic crops, such as avocados, lemons, mandarins, and Valencia oranges.
“By having the crop insurance, we’re able to guarantee that if for some reason we do have a bad freeze, we’ll be able to fall back on that insurance so that we can keep farming the following years,” Lupe said.
Another organic grower, Michael Sahr in Michigan, agrees that crop insurance is important to protecting his farm and our food supply. “Without crop insurance, we’d have so much devastation that the farmers would go out of business, and you would be paying a lot more money for your food,” he said.
“You could have a beautiful crop one day, and the next day, a big weather event happens, and you don’t have that anymore,” Michigan blueberry grower Shelly Hartmann said. “Crop insurance is really a big tool that we use here to help us offset any unexpected weather events.”
An untimely freeze, for example, can destroy a crop of table grapes growing at the Kirschenmann Brothers Farming Company in California. “Crop insurance gives us a little safety net,” Kenneth Kirschenmann said. “It doesn’t solve all the problems if we had a 100 percent wipeout, but it does keep us in business.”
California grower Devon Yurosek farms several tree crops, including pistachios, cherries, and pomegranates. The nature of these crops means that Devon and his family have one shot to make a good crop each year, stay in business, and keep their workers employed.
“We have to be able to pay the bills. In bad years, it’s difficult to do if you don’t have a crop on the trees. That’s where crop insurance has been a huge help to us,” Devon explained.
Produce and other specialty crops aren’t the only non-traditional crop that is covered by crop insurance. Pasture, rangeland, and forage (PRF) insurance helps farmers when they don’t receive the expected rainfall needed to keep their pastures productive for feeding livestock.
Pennsylvania farmer John Ligo turned to his PRF policy when a drought reduced his grass yield on the acres he uses to help feed his 600 head of cattle. “One of those things that we can do to manage crop production risk is crop insurance,” he said.
Farmers trust crop insurance to help them manage the highly specialized risks of farming they face today.