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Forage Insurance Gains Users in Big Dry Spells; Deadline Near

COLUMBIA – Crop insurance? Sure. Forage insurance? Not so much. Recent droughts and short hay crops brought attention to forage losses.

Pasture, rangeland and forage (PRF) insurance started in 2009. But offerings didn’t attract many buyers until recent dry spells, says University of Missouri economist Ryan Milhollin.

Farmers face a looming deadline of Nov. 15 for PRF insurance next year.

There weren’t many insurance buyers in the 2012 drought, Milhollin says. Those who bought forage insurance received $3.81 back for a dollar paid in premiums when averaged across the state.

That stirred interest. The next year, insured acres tripled in Missouri.

By last year, insured acres grew tenfold.

PRF insurance comes from USDA Risk Management Agency. “Crop insurance agents are the best source of information,” Milhollin says. He admits details can seem complex.

Agents help customize coverage to fit a farm’s need. Loss payments are not based on actual production. Instead, payout is triggered by a rainfall index for a region. Pay comes when rainfall drops below a coverage level in the long-term rainfall index.

The rain index is not based on actual rain at the insured farm. It averages data from nearby weather stations. It could be that a farmer incurs forage loss on a field but isn’t paid.

Premiums go up as coverage increases. Amount of coverage varies by intended use and location. County base values for grazing range from $37.50 to $63.60 per acre in Missouri. Options exist for dryland hay, irrigated hay and organic hay acres as well. Also, producers can increase their coverage up to 150 percent of the county base value for more productive land and forages.

Rainfall grids don’t follow state or county geographic lines. Grids are about 17 miles by 13 miles across Missouri. Those buying insurance pick a grid for the insured pasture or hayfield.

Farmers elect their own rainfall coverage. Those vary from 70 to 90 percent of the expected rainfall index. Federal subsidies differ by coverage. Cost-share covers 51 percent on 90 percent coverage, but pays 59 percent on 70 or 75 percent coverage.

Here’s another twist: You pick two-month increments to cover in the year for your policy. January-February differs from July-August, as might be expected.

With the complexity, Milhollin urges farmers to contact local crop insurance vendors soon. Go in before the Nov. 15 deadline.

The Risk Management Agency website lists agents by state and county. MU Extension specialists have general information. An MU Extension guide on PRF insurance is available for free download at

Crop insurance agents help farmers understand options and purchase this insurance.