Crop insurance continues to grow in popularity, with 90 percent of planted cropland being protected by crop insurance in 2013, former USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins told Agri-Pulse radio host Ken Root during a recent interview on “Open Mic.”

Root asked Collins why he had decided to return to working on crop insurance after his retirement from USDA. Collins noted that he had worked as Chairman of the Board of Federal Crop Insurance Corporation for seven years while at USDA. “I started in 2000 when we had a couple of hundred million acres insured and I watched that program grow dramatically,” he said. “I looked out at the landscape and it seemed apparent that crop insurance was going to be the most important and most powerful program to help the financial security of American agriculture,” he said.

Root pointed out that it took a long time for the crop insurance program to reach its full potential because Congress continually undercut its success with disaster programs. “That is absolutely true,” said Collins. “We had standing disaster programs in the 1970s, ad hoc disaster programs from the 1930s,” he said. Collins noted that when farmers were protected by those other programs, plus standing disaster bills, plus ad hoc disaster bills, “there wasn’t a big need for crop insurance for a lot of farmers.”

Root pointed out that today, farmers and farm organizations are saying that if they could only get one thing from the federal government, it would be crop insurance. “The government supports critical sectors for which there is public interest, and agriculture is one of those sectors,” said Collins. “And within agriculture, what is the primary safety net for famers,” he asked? “It’s crop insurance.”

Root asked if it was possible to get crop insurance coverage for the country without government involvement. Collins pointed out that “Congress has historically said that we’re willing to put more money in to get farmers to buy crop insurance so that we can cover the acreage that needs to be covered in the U.S. to avoid ad hoc disaster assistance and financial disruption.”