Where are we now with blueberry crop insurance and the Florida blueberry market?

IN THE LAST ISSUE of The Blueberry News, I had the opportunity to talk about blueberry crop insurance and damage claims from the low chill hours during the 2015- 16 season. There are still some unanswered questions. At the same time, the Florida Blueberry Growers Association (FBGA) board has been working diligently to make things happen, and we are seeing some positive results.

Let’s start with the good news. The USDA has expanded the traditional blueberry crop insurance in Florida to Orange County. This means that the blueberry crop insurance plan is now available in 14 counties in Florida. There were also three new counties added in Georgia: Berrien, Jeff Davis, and Lanier. By adding these counties, the insurance is now available in 15 counties in Georgia. If you are not growing blueberries in one of the approved counties, you still have options. If you are a new blueberry farm, there’s the Non-insured Assistance Program (NAP) available through the Farm Service Agency. If you’re an experienced blueberry grower and have at least three years of records marketing berries, you can apply for crop insurance through a Written Agreement. A Written Agreement is a formal request asking the USDA to extend the traditional crop insurance to an unapproved county where you have a history of growing blueberries. Again, it requires three years of sales records to apply. The Written Agreement also puts the USDA on notice of an unapproved county that they could add to the program the following year.

This news is very positive. The program is expanding, and it continues to receive attention from the USDA. It’s also worth noting that the blueberry crop insurance is now available in more counties in both Florida and Georgia than all the other 10 states where it’s available. Washington State is the closest with 13 approved counties. Keep this in mind at your next political event when you have a few moments with a local politician. A simple reminder of how the blueberry market continues to grow here in Florida and throughout the southeast can go a long way. Hopefully, we can get the attention of the right people, and we’ll see some much needed changes.

There is more good news with regard to Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP). The premium rates for insuring blueberries on this program have decreased from last year. Anytime there’s a reduction in premium cost it’s great news. As I mentioned last month, WFRP can help resolve some of the issues faced with losses related to low chill hours. Not to mention, this plan provides a much wider range of protection since it covers losses resulting from low prices. If you looked at WFRP before and didn’t do anything, it might be worth taking a second look.

There are still issues to address. The blueberry crop insurance plan needs to be made available in more counties in Florida. We have come a long way from only two counties when the plan was first introduced in Florida to now 14 counties. I am glad to see the USDA is continuing to expand the program. The termination date for the blueberry crop insurance is another aspect still needing to be addressed. The date has not changed for this coming season. It is still September 15 for all states except for Michigan, which is September 30. This change may take a little more effort and a little more time. The decision to change the termination dates for different states and/or regions and possibly for different varieties will require the support of local growers and associations. It is important to help educate and support the USDA in understanding the need for the termination date(s) to reflect the local markets for blueberries.

Again, I have a positive outlook concerning the options blueberry growers have to protect their growing interest. I am primarily excited about having the WFRP program in place to help offset some of the limits of the traditional program. In addition, I am hopeful more changes will be made. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be involved in your local growers’ associations. With a collective effort, it can make a difference, and the blueberry farmers will have the support needed to keep growing.

CREDIT

article by by FRED SIMONS, III, CLU, ChFC

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fred Simons, III, CLU, ChFC is a crop insurance expert with Carden & Associates, Inc. based in Winter Haven, Florida. Fred brings over 22 years of experience to the insurance industry, and has a deep-rooted knowledge in the specific risk management needs that are unique to Florida’s agriculture. For questions or comments, contact Fred at (863) 291-3505 or email him at FSimons@cardeninsurance. com. On the Web: www.cardeninsurance.com.