CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Marvin Jensen, Kensington, Minnesota

Local legend has it that a group of Vikings happened upon this part of west-central Minnesota in 1362 and left runic inscriptions on a piece of stone. Hundreds of years later, a local farmer found the stone, and the discovery has forever added an air of mystique to the town on Kensington, Minnesota, and the fabled Kensington runestone.

marv jensen pic.JPGMarvin Jensen grew up on a farm near Kensington, and has heard discussions of the runestone his entire life. Jensen, a second-generation farmer who cultivates about 1,900 acres of corn and soybeans, says that like the runestone, the local weather is an ongoing mystery that is sometimes impossible to plan for.

Jensen lives in a part of the state that was not as heavily damaged by the drought of 2012. But his farm wasn’t entirely unaffected.

“I’m not really in the bad part of the state that got really hurt,” he says. “I have some light soil that dried out because we didn’t get all that much rain, but much of the rest of my soil is heavier and it held what little moisture we received better,” he said. Jensen says that the corn in his lighter soils averaged about 60 bushels to the acre, with the heavier soils yielding around 208 bushels. “And that’s considered a pretty good yield for this area,” he said.

“We really didn’t have much rain at all, but it just came at the right time,” said Jensen, who added that getting his seed in the ground early also helped the success rate of his crop. He noted that while his farm obviously didn’t experience the worst of the drought, there were many farmers in the southern part of the state who did, and lost nearly everything.

And that kind of extreme variability — which can leave one farmer’s fields wilted while leaving those of another farmer just a county away in relatively good shape — is why Jensen purchases crop insurance every year.

Jensen said that he’s been purchasing crop insurance since the mid 1990s, when the federal government stepped in to encourage greater participation in the program and began to partially discount the farmers’ premiums. “ Before that, a guy really couldn’t afford it,” he said.

Jensen recalled a major disaster he faced in 1980, before most farmers could afford to purchase crop insurance. “A big storm came through with hail stones, some of which were about the size of cannonballs,” he said. “The hail was so big it punched holes in my aluminum roof,” he explained. “It wiped out my whole crop, and I didn’t have any crop insurance, or any hail insurance.”

Jensen says that when it hit, he was lucky because most of his land was already paid for and he was able to use that land as collateral to borrow on for his next year’s production costs. “So that’s what kept me in business,” he said.

Jensen said that handling natural disasters through the crop insurance program is much preferred to the past, when farmers couldn’t or didn’t purchase crop insurance and then found themselves relying on federal disaster assistance when calamity struck. “By the time a disaster bill got through Congress and the money arrived, it was two, three years late,” he said. “And a bank isn’t going to make a production loan based on a promise from the federal government that can take years to deliver,” he added.

Jensen is happy that the new emphasis is on the public-private partnership of crop insurance. “A crop insurance claim is much quicker, and you get your money in a month or two.”