Crop insurance rates in Birds Point floodway return to normal

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Farmers in the Birds Point-New Madrid spillway were facing crop insurance rates double and even triple what is typical.

After the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently confirmed the temporary levee built at Birds Point by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considered adequate protection, New Madrid and Mississippi County farmers' crops will no longer be deemed high-risk.

The decision comes just in time for farmers, who are now considering their crop insurance purchases for the coming growing season. Crop insurance decisions must be made by March 15 under USDA regulations, said Jeff Baumgart, regional marketing manager with Diversified Services. His company insures many farmers in the spillway, who now won't have to worry about paying higher rates.

The USDA's Risk Management Agency, which regulates crop insurance, said the temporary levee, which provides protection from flooding at a river stage of 55 feet, supports a "standard" rather than "high risk" crop insurance premium.

Baumgart said having to pay a high-risk rate would have taken several million dollars out of the farm economy in Mississippi County alone.

Stephen Burke, a Mississippi County farmer who also heads the Missouri Farm Service Agency state committee, helped convince USDA officials to accept the temporary levee as adequate protection.

Having to pay high-risk crop insurance rates would have added insult to injury in an area still recovering from flooding, he said.

"This area just produces a tremendous amount of food. We wanted to prove that it was an insurable product," Burke said.

While the decision takes some of the risk out of planting in the spillway, he said area farmers are still nervous about the temporary levee.

"We want the corps to build the levee back to the level it was prior to the breach," he said.

Work on rebuilding the levee to its original hight, which offered protection at a river stage of 62.5 feet, stopped in December because of the weather.

Burke farms about 500 acres in the spillway, raising wheat, corn and soybeans. He lost some of his wheat crop last year when the corps intentionally breached the levee May 2 to relieve flooding downstream.

He didn't have his wheat crop insured but said some producers who were covered were able to get compensation for their lost wheat after the levee breach.

Through crop insurance programs, farmers can either insure their yield, based on their previous yields, or insure their revenue, Baumgart said. Both may be insured for up to 85 percent of their value.

The Risk Management Agency establishes the crop insurance program and rates for all companies and agents. However, what individual farmers pay varies based on their yields, Baumgart said.

While farmers must commit to crop insurance purchases by March 15, they aren't billed until Aug. 15, he said.

Farmers must have their crops insured order to qualify for most USDA disaster assistance programs.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

Mississippi County, MO

New Madrid County, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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