Crop insurance deadline nears


August 31, 2008|By TED SHELSBY

A reminder to grain farmers from the folks at the state Department of Agriculture: The recently enacted federal farm bill links crop insurance with future disaster payments and the deadline for signing up for such insurance is not far off.

Sept. 30 is the crop insurance sign-up deadline in Maryland for farmers planting winter wheat, barley and forage.

"Any Maryland farmer who wants to be eligible for disaster assistance on 2009 crops must have insurance coverage on all insurable fall seeded crops before the sales closing deadline," said state Agriculture Secretary Roger L. Richardson.

"I urge farmers to talk with their crop insurance agents before the Sept. 30 deadline for coverage on small grains and forage," he said.

The new farm bill requires crop insurance on all insurable crops or noninsured assistance program coverage on all uninsurable crops in order to be eligible for the government's supplemental revenue assistance program.

Noninsured assistance program coverage is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, while crop insurance is available through private crop insurance agents.

If farmers fail to sign up for crop insurance on their fall planted crops, they will not be protected under the federal supplemental revenue assistance program for their corn and soybean crops next summer even if they buy crop insurance for those crops, the state warned.

The higher the crop insurance coverage, the higher the supplemental revenue assistance program guarantee will be.

The supplemental revenue assistance program is in effect for the 2008 crop year and runs through the 2011 crop year. Government payments to farmers will be triggered by a USDA secretarial disaster declaration for a county. Contiguous counties are automatically eligible.

Farmers are encouraged to contact a crop insurance agent well before the deadline.

For additional information, contact Mark Powell, chief of marketing at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, at 410-841-5775.

To learn more about the new federal farm bill, farmers can attend a series of workshops sponsored by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, the state agriculture department and other federal agriculture agencies.

The next session is scheduled for Tuesday at the Mount Airy firefighters' activity building, 1003 Twin Arch Road.

Other sessions and dates include:

* Wednesday, American Legion Hall in Hughesville.

* Thursday, Friendly Farm Restaurant, Upperco.

* Tuesday, Sept. 9, Washington County extension office, Boonsboro.

* Thursday, Sept. 11, Room 2007, Garrett College in McHenry.

All of the workshops are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.

Funding woes

When state lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year to have more local farm produce served in state schools, their hearts were in the right place. Unfortunately, the money was not.

Despite a lack of funding for the program, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the state Board of Education plan to kick off the concept the week of Sept. 22.

The launch is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 23, at Takoma Park Middle School in Montgomery County.

In addition to providing farm-fresh produce for the school cafeteria, the program puts education material in the hands of teachers to integrate into lessons to help students make the connection between their lunch menus and the agriculture process.

So far, school systems in Montgomery, Cecil, Carroll and Anne Arundel Counties are planning to feature local produce on their menus during the state's Homegrown School Lunch program.

Jane Storrs, director of national marketing at the state Department of Agriculture, said another 13 county school systems, including Harford and Howard, are planning farm-food connection activities during the Farm to School lunch week.

"We hope this is just the beginning," said Storrs.

She said the one-week test program could be more widespread in the future.

"We want it to be a long-term thing," she said. "We want schools to offer local farm produce throughout the school year."

The lack of funding for the program has kept the Department of Agriculture from hiring a program coordinator that could link schools to farms offering produce for sale.

Storrs pointed out that the school systems in some counties are too large to be supplied by a single farm. As an example, she said, Prince George's County has 70,000 students and there is a need to link farms together to supply products for students' lunches.

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