Delegation: RMA Announces New Prevented Planting Guidelines

WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp and Congressman Kevin Cramer announced today that the Risk Management Agency (RMA) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released new rules for the prevented planting insurance program for the 2014 crop year. The new rules come following pressure from North Dakota’s delegation to clarify the rules and make the program work for producers.

The new guidelines:

  • Eliminate the “normal weather” provision to allow a producer who plants and harvests a crop one out of four years, regardless of the weather situation, to be eligible for prevented plant. The previous rules definition of “normal weather conditions” was a matter of subjective interpretation, leaving growers uncertain about how they could use those years to qualify for prevented plant insurance.
  • Remove a provision disqualifying land for prevented planting if marsh vegetation, such as a single cattail, is found on it.
  • However, once the producer is unable to plant and harvest on certain acreage in one of the four most recent crop years, the producer will need to demonstrate the land is farmable by planting and harvesting (or incurring an insurable loss other than for excess moisture) two years in a row.

“Our producers should be focused on farming and running their businesses instead of navigating unclear government regulations,” said Hoeven. “We’ve been pressing RMA to make the prevented planting program work for our producers and to ensure the guidelines are clear and concise. Tomorrow we’ll be hosting roundtable discussions with the RMA Administrator and North Dakota producers to ensure the rules are clear and that they do, in fact, work for our farmers and ranchers.”

In May, Hoeven hosted Willis in Fargo and Bismarck at roundtable meetings held with a broad range of North Dakota agriculture group leaders to provide an update and press for a clarification of the prevented plant rules. Hoeven also successfully included an amendment in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill requiring the agency to simplify the provisions to make them more predictable to producers and reflective of local conditions.

“Farmers deserve to know they can rely on the insurance coverage they purchased. The policies must be clear with regard to eligibility and coverage,” said Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “As soon as I heard concerns from North Dakota farmers about uncertainties regarding prevented plant eligibility, I strongly advocated for a policy change to make sure all growers receive the coverage they paid for. Removing the normal weather clause is a positive step for the next season, and I am pleased that USDA heeded our concerns.”

In the Spring, Senator Heitkamp requested clarification from RMA regarding an across-the-board application of the “normal weather clause” in North Dakota, which could have resulted in coverage being denied to producers that should qualify. In response to these concerns, RMA assured Senator Heitkamp that prevented plant claims would be considered on a case-by-case basis by approved insurance providers. Additionally, to urge a change in prevented plant policy, Heitkamp brought together North Dakota producers and the USDA. In July, Heitkamp hosted Michael Scuse, the No. 2 official at USDA, in Bismarck to hear directly from North Dakota farmers. Heitkamp expressed her major concerns with the ambiguity surrounding prevented plant policies. She also met with RMA Administrator Brandon Willis, who Heitkamp will be with in North Dakota this week, to push the agency to take action.

“While I am pleased to see the RMA recognize the lack of clarity in its own rules by removing the weather condition qualifier for future years, I am still concerned about its effect on our producers for the current growing season. Making this change apply retroactively would have been a better decision," said Cramer. "I will make myself and my staff available to assist any producer who encounters difficulty counting 2012 toward the 1 in 4 rule.”

Hoeven will host roundtable discussions with Senator Heitkamp, RMA Acting Administrator Brandon Willis and local producers tomorrow in Grand Forks and Minot to discuss the new prevented planting guidelines.