Oklahoma wheat farmers call on USDA to implement insurance provision to address drought

Markets Associated Press

Oklahoma wheat growers are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a farm bill provision they say would address the ongoing drought that has plagued the region by allowing farmers to maintain enough crop insurance to cover expected production.

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The fix was supposed to take effect when the farm bill was signed into law in February, but wheat growers have complained the federal agency is dragging its feet on the provision.

USDA officials have said the measure is too important to rush and estimate that it won't be ready until 2016 because of its technical nature. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment Friday, and referred to comments that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made in August.

"It's an IT challenge, it's a staffing challenge and it's about priorities," Vilsack said then.

Previously, any crop a farmer insured was figured based on the previous 10 years of harvests. But under the provision in the new farm bill, farmers could exclude from that history harvests where the yield for the entire county was 50 percent or more below its 10-year average, Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association president Curtis Vap said.

"This is a straightforward, common-sense provision," Vap said in a statement. "But, instead of carrying out the law, USDA decided on day one that they were going to ignore the law and delay relief to thousands of producers across the country dealing with inadequate crop insurance coverage on account of a string of drought years not seen since the 1950s."

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Vilsack in August explained that the issue wasn't "as simple as it may appear at first blush" because nearly every commodity grown in every county in the U.S. would be impacted by the new calculations.

"And so we're going to do it right and we're going to do it in a careful and thoughtful way," Vilsack said. "And if it takes a little bit longer, so be it."

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2014 Farm Bill: http://agriculture.house.gov/farmbill