Feature

Today's Farmer stats

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

 

A tale of higher yield: 2010 land price

When manager of MFA’s precision agronomy services Rick Greene was studying yield trends from corn country in the heart of Missouri, he noticed a significant climb in the past decade or so. To get a handle on just how much yields had increased, Greene tapped into USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service county average numbers for Howard, Saline and Lafayette counties. Tracking corn yield, the numbers plot out to show a 40 percent increase over the past 15 years.


Of course, with crops so dependent on weather, the year-to-year data is more variable, but the composite data shows a clear trendline toward higher yield.


Greene explained the trends. “It’s an impressive increase,” he said. “And I think we’re all familiar with the storyline. We’re investing more in every bag of seed we plant. The genetic packages are better each year, and the yield trend shows it. If we’re doing our job at MFA’s Precision Systems, a good number of farmers are also making better decisions about how they fertilize. We’re getting the right nutrients in the right places at the right time.”


Still, once he’d seen the severity of the trend, Greene drafted the nearby chart to show that the target is moving. The climbing yield shows how helpful accurate yield data and soil sampling can be to keep fertility at the soil’s most productive levels.


“Fertility plans from 15 years ago probably no longer fit the reality of today’s production levels or the technology available to put nutrients where they do the most good,” said Greene.
“If you take the average corn yield from 1995 at 112 bushels per acre, your crop used 40 pounds of P205. In 2009, at 156 bushels of corn per acre, your crop removed 55 pounds of P205. So, you’re looking at a 15-pound increase of nutrient removal compared to 15 years ago just based on yield increases.”

Ag Outlook

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

 

Three experts outline what ag producers should expect for 2011

 

 

What do you project for crop profitability?


Westhoff: Unfavorable weather reduced production this year in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Uncertainty about the size of the U.S. corn crop also supported prices. Meanwhile, global grain and oilseed demand is strengthening, with rising use of livestock feed in China and other countries and growing biofuel production in this country. Crop prices and profitability grew higher than was expected earlier this year. How long this lasts depends on a wide range of factors, not the least of which is weather. Bumper crops around the world in 2011 could lead to sharply lower prices, while another crop shortfall could send prices even higher.
Duffy: Crop prices are up due to demand for wheat and prospects for a bit lower corn crop. 2011 profitability should be good, as production costs should remain essentially unchanged from a year ago.


Oldvader: The demand/supply curve is at work again. Limited stock carryover plus reduced domestic production multiplied by robust domestic and foreign demand equals bull markets for major crops. At this writing, USDA reduced corn yield projections by 2.5 bushels an acre. Multiply that by 81 million acres and you have a lot of corn. Soybeans should fare better on the production side with anticipated record yields. Export demand from China remains bullish. Crop margins will undoubtedly narrow—while prices may firm on a higher-than-normal plateau, input costs will erode profits. Most notably, energy costs will drive fertilizer prices up with seed costs following suit. Patent expirations, however, may spread the wealth in the chemical arena, keeping costs relatively stable.

 

What’s in store for livestock?


Westhoff: Livestock product prices generally increased in 2010, and profitability in the first seven months of the year improved over 2009 for most producers. Factors leading to higher livestock prices in 2010 included reduced meat production in response to 2009’s low returns, and more favorable demand here and around the world. However, the sharp recent increase in feed prices will negatively affect livestock producers in the months ahead.
Oldvader: The livestock industry responded admirably to high feed costs and reduced demand in 2008/2009. With the return of above-average feed costs, producers will again limit expansions and capital investments. Much depends on how much producers restored liquidity and equity over the past year. Livestock profitability will remain soft, yet better than in 2009. Enhanced domestic demand will not immediately solve the price issue. Stronger emerging world markets and a competitively valued dollar may minimize further challenges to our livestock industry. Approximately 40 percent of our crop production enters the livestock gates, making a healthy livestock industry vital to agricultural profitability.

 

What’s happening with farmland values?


Westhoff: USDA recently reported national average farmland values were about 1 percent higher on Jan. 1, 2010, than on Jan. 1, 2009. Recent reports suggest that average farmland prices continue to rise, but regions and counties vary. If strong crop prices and profitability continue and interest rates continue to be low, farmland values will likely increase. But the market remains sensitive to both good and bad news.

Oldvader: For more than 40 years, FCS Financial has tracked land values on 18 benchmark farms spanning our 102-county lending territory. In 2010, demand for high-quality cropland remains solid with an average increase of 3.65 percent compared to the previous year. On the other hand, we see soft demand for marginal cropland and pasture with an aggregate decrease of slightly more than 3 percent. Clearly, the market is beginning to discriminate based on projected returns, but no land is deflation-proof. Farmers are purchasing most high-end land, and a large number of sales are in cash. With low interest rates, minimal options for safe alternative investments and continued positive crop margins, productive land should support greater price and rental stability while marginal land prices remain volatile.

Duffy: Land values have stabilized after some drops in the past year. The weak economy is creating good demand for land, with higher-quality land showing the most strength. We aren’t seeing as many sales because people want to hold onto land.

 

How much are we in debt?


Oldvader: U.S. farm debt is estimated to decline approximately 4 percent in 2010 from $245 billion to $235 billion. Most of the decrease is in the non-real estate sector, reflecting reduced demand for operating credit as well as restraint on capital purchases. FCS Financial’s traditional producer portfolio remains relatively constant, while agribusiness volume has declined. We expect our overall loan volume to decline approximately 3 percent for 2010. USDA forecasts that net farm income will rise by approximately 25 percent for 2010, driven primarily by renewed livestock earnings. Farm foreclosures remain subdued locally and nationally. Agriculture remains strong, even during a period of severe economic challenge. Perhaps lessons from the past paid dividends for farmers and lenders. I anticipate increased lending activities for 2011, with no increase in foreclosures.

Duffy: I think the worst of the livestock problems are behind us. But some people are still in trouble. Farmers in areas with poor harvests will be especially vulnerable.

 

Can producers access credit?

Oldvader: Due to agriculture’s strength, most lenders have not retreated from financing producers, with some exceptions in major livestock expansions or start-up operations. Credit appears to be readily available for creditworthy borrowers. Less than stellar credits may require additional collateral or shorter loan maturities. The cost of money remains a bright spot. In September, the Federal Reserve noted that the anemic economic recovery would result in an extended period of low interest rates. Little will be done to adjust rates until the country experiences sustained increases in manufacturing, notable reductions in unemployment, and stability in the housing industry. These moons may not align for 12 to 18 months.

Duffy: Lender surveys show that credit is available. There may be some higher down payments but, for the most part, people with good credit ratings shouldn’t have trouble getting money.

 

Does the dollar still move exports?


Westhoff: The dollar remains an important factor, but it’s far from the only one. Agricultural export demand also depends on the weather and the strength of the global economic recovery. This year, the drop in grain production in Russia and neighboring countries creates an opportunity for increased U.S. exports of wheat and other crops. Likewise, continued growth in Chinese livestock production and feed demand creates a growing market for U.S. soybeans.

Oldvader: The supply/demand needs of our trading partners remain the biggest motivator. Most leading U.S. ag customers are doing well. That, plus a weakened dollar, continues demand that began in 2009 to supply major economies with grains and animal protein. At this writing, the dollar continues to weaken against currencies of major U.S. ag importers like China, Japan, and Canada. This erosion is based on speculation that the Federal Reserve may implement additional programs to stimulate the economy. Look for exports to continue to support farm prices, but be mindful that the dollar is not the sole premise driving exports. Trade barriers, vital sanitary standards, and market shocks such as H1N1 all create volatility.

Duffy: Trouble around the Caspian Sea area has limited the amount of wheat available in world markets, helping to move U.S. exports. Exports will be okay in 2011, but nothing spectacular. We are still trying to get out of this economic situation.

 

How can we manage risk?

Westhoff: Producers have a wide range of tools at their disposal. As we saw in 2008 and 2009, when there is a widespread economic downturn, it’s more difficult to manage downside risk. Diversification, for example, doesn’t do much good if everything moves lower. Farmers should prepare for continued market volatility. Federal budgetary pressures related to the next Farm Bill might affect the government’s farm safety net.

Oldvader: In this environment, a well-defined business plan becomes critical for success. The plan must include risk mitigation tools such as breakeven analysis to establish price and cost targets for marketing and purchasing. Crop insurance is essential.  It’s a good time to lock in interest rates for long-term assets such as land.

Duffy: Farmers should be aware of all available insurance tools and how best to use them. You should also understand futures and options alternatives available and take advantage of profit opportunities.


Will environmental legislation affect us?


Westhoff: It appears unlikely that cap and trade legislation will revive anytime soon. Whether and how EPA might regulate greenhouse gas emissions remains unclear, but this could have important implications for agriculture. Controversy will continue over how best to regulate everything from agricultural chemicals to egg production.

Oldvader: Cap and trade may lie dormant for some time. Congressional turnover, plus more pressing issues, might keep this one in hibernation. That does not mean all is quiet on the environmental front. Look for continued challenges related to EPA’s broader interpretations of the Clean Water Act. Additionally, attempted governmental oversight to control everything from atrazine to milk storage and spray drift to farm dust will challenge even the most patient farmers. To say nothing of animal welfare storm clouds looming on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Duffy: Farmers need to work with groups on different ways to manage runoff and leaching. The oil spill removed the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico from discussion, but this issue will resurface as things settle down.
Will the public support biofuel?
Westhoff: Important decisions will be made soon about whether higher-level ethanol blends will be available in the market and whether to extend biofuel tax credits and tariffs. As long as the renewable fuel standard continues to put a floor under biofuel use, the downside potential in biofuel markets is limited. The upside depends on policy and petroleum market developments.

 

What’s your top trend for 2011?

Westhoff: Over the last couple of years, the general economy’s impact on the farm economy has proven critical. If the worst of the recession is past, as many forecasters predict, we can get back to worrying about things like the weather.

Oldvader: Over my 39-year career, I have watched an expanding disconnect between the ag producer and consumer. Those of us in agriculture preach the value of our industry, but candidly, we usually preach to the choir. Equally concerning, few of the folks who promulgate laws and regulations governing our industry have a clue about agriculture’s impact on the economy. This issue will come to greater light as we incubate the 2012 Farm Bill. We’re doing a better job of communicating as an industry, but we have a herculean task of staying in tune with our audience.

Duffy: Food safety continues to be an important issue. If you are a new producer, or if you are struggling to find enough resources for a strictly commodity farm, you may find opportunities to capture extra income in the local food movement.

 

Give us your best piece of advice.

Westhoff: Continue to expect surprises. No one could have predicted everything that’s happened over the last five years. Be ready to take advantage of opportunities, but also be prepared for unpleasant news.

Oldvader: Develop a business plan as if you were preparing an initial public offering to attract investors. Ask your lender or Extension agent if they would buy stock in your business. This might help you see opportunities and challenges from a different perspective. In this volatile environment, the risks are great, but so are the rewards.

Duffy: If you are an older farmer, get plans in place for your future and the future of your farm. If you are a younger producer, look for options that won’t strap you with a lot of debt. If you are mid-career, be as efficient as possible. There are a lot of technologies out there, but make sure you can afford them. You should farm based on your resources, not on what you see other people doing.

Public relations, mule Style

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

 

For MU's vet school, Tim and Terry carry on a Missouri tradition

 

The Missouri mule is an icon across generations. For those of a generation old enough to remember the last vestiges of animal-powered livestock, mules were a sturdy asset on the farm. And many know that Missouri mules were made famous during World War I, when British military forces contracted a Missouri firm, Guyton and Harrington, as its exclusive supplier of mules. That company’s 15,000-acre farm near Lathrop, Mo., shipped some 350,000 mules during the course of the war. The mule industry has waned since, but it is not forgotten.


For today’s generation, the Missouri Mule is embodied by Tim and Terry, a pair of mules owned by the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. They have become a recruitment tool for the college. And at a time when large-animal veterinarian practices are alarmingly scarce, MFA is happy to support the team.


Tim and Terry were donated to the college by Mexico, Mo.-based Sydenstricker Implement and are actually the third pair of mules to represent MU’s vet school. The first pair were Hilda and Louise, who were followed by Hilda and Louise II (or Jill and Shirley). The first Hilda and Louise arrived at the college in 1984, beginning what has become a well-known tradition.
For the past several years, Tim and Terry have fueled their mule ambassador activities with MFA’s Legends Feeds, specifically the carb-control and senior diet. MFA’s feed products marketing manager Janice Spears said that the cooperative is glad to support the college by supporting the mule team, especially if the public relations impact from the mules helps bolster the supply of large-animal veterinarians in the future.


The mules are cared for by a cadre of first- and second-year vet school students, all of them members of the Mule Club. These students feed and care for the mules as well as schedule public appearances throughout the year.


Caitlin Schuessler is the MU Mule Club president. The St. Louis-area native grew up around her father, James,’ vet practice and had heard about the college’s mules prior to being admitted to the vet school.


Schuessler explained that there is plenty of work shared by the students. Officers are all second-year students. Third-year students, she said, get too busy with hospital work to devote enough time to the club.


“We keep busy with events,” Caitlin said. “We attend fairs, parades. We’ve done a wedding or two. Our main goal is to provide a public relations outlet for the school. Hopefully we inspire people to attend. There is a shortage of veterinarians right now, and it’s getting worse—particularly among large-animal practices.”
While the club is run by students, they enjoy the help and advice of three advisors, Chair of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, Dr. John Dodam, Dr. Martha Rasch and Dr. James Thorne.


As for public relations, Caitlin said that Terry is a bit more natural than Tim. “Terry is a little friendlier. Tim is more skittish.” But both serve an invaluable purpose. Aside from piquing interest in potential students, she said, the mules are great general ambassadors for livestock.
“People with urban backgrounds are excited to see them,” said Caitlin, “We get to answer a lot of questions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aging on the Farm

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Gene Boyd enjoys waking up on his farm near Albany, Mo., and checking water for his 52 head of beef cattle—mostly Black Angus. In the spring, Boyd examines the soil for moisture content to see if it’s ready for planting corn and soybeans. None of his daily activities are unusual for farmers in this region. 
Except Boyd is 92 years old.

“I’ve always been independent,” Boyd said. “I like to get out and move around, look at the stock and see what’s going on.” When asked for the secret to his longevity, he cites examples of two neighboring farmers who moved to town—both died within a couple of years. “They’d always been active, and then they sat down. You’ve got to stay active.”

The age of America’s farmers continues to rise. Until around 1980, just 17 percent of farmers were age 65 or older, according to Laszlo Kulcsar, a demographer at Kansas State University. By 2007, the figure more than doubled to 37 percent, and will continue to grow as the baby boomers—those born after World War II and before 1964—start hitting age 65 this year.

Boyd’s age may be advanced compared to most farmers, but his drive to remain on the farm is common. “Farmers don’t think about retirement as much as those in other jobs,” said Kulcsar, an associate professor of sociology who leads an extensive study of retiring farmers.

Keeping it in the family

Last summer, the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service helped Kulcsar by mailing surveys to 4,000 farmers over age 50 across the state. Some 1,500 surveys were returned—a higher than average return rate for the agency, which regularly gathers data from farmers for USDA.

The vast majority of farmers in Kulcsar’s preliminary results, gathered from 509 farmers aged 60 to 69, are married with children.
Boyd fits that mold, although his wife, Bea, passed away 11 years ago. “I don’t want to live in a nursing home,” Boyd said. “I’ve learned to take care of myself.”

One-third of farmers aged 60 to 69 responding to Kulcsar’s survey said they were in the process of retiring, but almost half don’t see it as urgent. Farmers usually age in place on the farm, partly because they don’t make a clean break from the workplace when they retire, as they would in an office or factory job.

Kulcsar found that most older farmers lack solid plans to keep their farms going in the future. Only 30 percent would seek retirement planning assistance from accounting, financial planning or other experts. Some 62 percent intend to keep the land intact, and most plan to keep it in the family.

But only 57 percent have a successor identified, and 42 percent have estate plans, although 14 percent more say they’re in the process.

“Farmers have a different notion of retirement,” Kulcsar said. “Many don’t have hobbies or anything to substitute for farming. It’s a slow transition. Many go from all-out to just half time. That can be good for a successor. On the other hand, farmers can’t let go.”
Boyd and Bea raised just one son, Gary, making for an easy decision on who will inherit the farm. A few years ago, Boyd turned over most responsibilities to Gary, who drives about an hour to the farm every weekend from his home near Kearney, north of Kansas City. Gary’s son, Steve, helps out with the cattle during busy times. The family plants and sprays crops and cuts hay, but hires custom combiners to harvest corn and beans.

Gary admits surprise at how long his dad has remained on the farm. “But he’s always loved to work,” Gary said. “He’s slowed down, but he runs the tractor and disks in the spring, and he rakes hay.”

Kulcsar speculated that farmers like Boyd continue on in their golden years because today’s equipment makes the work less physically demanding than in the past. Another reason that the average farmer’s age continues to rise is that farm kids are choosing not to farm. Like Gary, most move to the city to find a job. Gary works full time for a large paper carton manufacturer.
The average farm size is growing, and it’s harder to make a living on smaller parcels. Kulcsar’s farmers revealed that just 12 percent of their children are involved in farming—and Kulcsar’s definition was broad enough to include jobs like working at a farm elevator.

{gallery}feb11/age:210:270:1:2{/gallery}It’s a common belief that most farms have been passed down from one generation to the next. Kulcsar was surprised that just 38 percent of the farmers in his preliminary research say they inherited their farm. Boyd lives on a farm that he purchased 50 years ago. Previously, he farmed a few miles farther south. Boyd’s parents farmed, but Boyd bought both his farms on his own, paying for them with “hard work,” he said.

Today, Boyd lives on income from the farm, Social Security, and investments. While the K-State research didn’t ask about rental income, many aging farmers depend on land rent payments. Boyd earned rent from acreage set aside in the Conservation Reserve Program until recently, when the federal contracts expired. The Boyds since planted those acres in crops.
Helping Boyd stay at home

Boyd may be independent, but his daughter-in-law, Ginny, and his grandson’s wife, Becky, help make it possible for him to stay at home. They keep him supplied in plated meals, and Gary delivers them each Saturday to make sure Boyd eats a balanced meal each noon throughout the following week.

“She sends me a lot of stuff I wouldn’t bother with, like carrots,” said Boyd, who describes himself as a meat, potatoes and bread man. “I’m more or less a fry cook. But they say I won’t cook what I need, so I eat what Ginny sends me.”
Boyd usually heats up oatmeal for breakfast, and fries bacon and eggs for supper. He drives to Albany to pick up groceries and other supplies. “I still drive my car and tractor,” he said. “I do whatever I want to do.”
Ginny works at a medical center near Kansas City where Boyd goes for health services. He takes some medications, and both of his knees have been replaced, but otherwise he doesn’t need much care.
Except for that time he had a “mishap” with the tractor.

One afternoon two years ago, Boyd was preparing a tractor with a pull-behind sprayer for Gary to use the following weekend. He thought he’d put the tractor in a gear that would prevent it from moving when he stepped off to replace the cap on the tank. But the tractor started moving. “It knocked me down and ran over me,” Boyd remembers.
Fortunately, the tractor sat near the house. Boyd crawled home and waited for Gary to call, as Gary does every evening on his drive home from work. Unfortunately Gary worked late and didn’t call until about 7 p.m.

“I told him ‘You’d better come and pick me up,’” Boyd said. “‘I’ve had a little accident.’” X-rays revealed a broken elbow, wrist and pelvis.

Boyd returned to the farm within a few weeks. But as it turned out, the tractor also damaged one of his artificial knees. He put up with the pain for a month and a half before replacing the knee again. He chuckles when he remembers the surgeon’s comment after the operation. “He said, ‘I don’t know how you walked in here,’” Boyd recalled.
As Gary said of his dad, “He’s a tough old guy.”

 

What Boyd teaches us?

 

What can Boyd’s story tell us about the future? We’ll see more knee surgeries like his, along with other medical procedures. According to the American Hospital Association, by 2030, the over-65 population will nearly triple, and knee replacements will be performed eight times more than they are today. By the same year, one in three seniors will be obese, and one in four will have diabetes. The caregiver shortage will increase across the nation, but rural citizens will benefit from emerging technologies that make it easier to deliver care in remote areas.

All of this means increasing costs for American taxpayers who fund Medicare—not to mention the added cost of Social Security—as many boomers may live even longer than Boyd. We can only hope that more of us remain active and healthy like him.

If you drive by Boyd’s place along Highway 85, chances are he’ll be watching out his window. “I see a lot of traffic,” he said. “I know most of them.” Once in a while, neighbors stop by to check on him, but Boyd doesn’t visit others much. When he’s not doing chores, he passes the time watching news and detective shows on TV. He doesn’t seem to mind being alone.

“There’s always somebody wanting to give me a dog,” Boyd said. He’s kept pets in the past, but without that responsibility, “If I want, I can go stay with the kids for a week.”

Kulcsar offers one more reason why farmers like Boyd live at home longer than people in other professions. “Farmers seem to value their independence more,” he said. “It could be that farming is already a good lifestyle.”

Boyd presents a living example of how to age at home independently. When his time comes, he plans to be on the farm. “I don’t worry about it,” Boyd said. “If they find me here one day, I was doing what I enjoy.”

 

How to get help

 

Thanks to his family, Gene Boyd doesn’t need much outside assistance. But help is available—even at a time when government budgets are strained and a growing number of seniors need services.

In Missouri, ten Area Agencies on Aging coordinate services for those age 60 and older, including transportation, in-home care and meal delivery. Other states operate similar networks. Most funds come from the federal government as a result of 1973 amendments to the Older Americans Act. Other contributions come from the state, from grant programs and, in some counties, from senior tax appropriations.

When we contacted Becky Flaherty, executive director of the Northwest Area Agency on Aging, she and her 13-member staff were helping seniors make decisions on Medicare drug benefits.

“The more rural you are, the less you need or want,” said Flaherty, who lives in Albany, population 2,000. “We have grown up being self-sufficient. More people raise their own vegetables, butcher their own meat, and if the grocery store closes at 8, they’ll be there by 8. It’s more than a place to live; it’s a lifestyle.”

Rural areas like Albany, with low housing costs, can attract retirees. In fact, Flaherty sees retirees moving back home to take care of their aging parents. Here, folks sometimes scrape by on Social Security payments of $700 a month. For most Missourians, Social Security makes up just one third of all income. Farmers often bring in added earnings from commodity sales or land rent, but they face special challenges. “They’re often cash-poor but asset rich, so they don’t always qualify for programs,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty’s agency covers 18 counties from St. Joseph to the smallest burgs. In rural places, even the oldest don’t give up driving easily. “In many small towns, you may see tractors on the square, driven by farmers or others who have lost or given up their licenses,” she said. “Transportation is a big issue. With some limitations, we’ll pick you up on the farm and take you where you need to go.” Buses carry seniors to the grocery store or library, and volunteers drive you to medical care.
Flaherty, who manages a $5 million annual budget, admits to funding concerns. “There’s not enough dollars,” she said. “As boomers age, that’s a pipe dream, so we’re designing model projects that encourage cities and counties to assess what they already have. My organization then tries to fill in the gaps.”

Many groups offer assistance, but few know all the services available. In Albany, community and church leaders, Extension representatives and others recently formed Visionary Partnership for a Rural Community and put together a resource guide for Gentry County.

The same group organized Albany’s Helping Hands to recruit volunteers to help with things like mowing, weatherizing houses, cleaning gutters and raking leaves. “People in rural communities are willing to help, but sometimes don’t know how,” she adds. “Our goal is to encourage neighbors to take care of each other again.”

For more information, call your local Department of Health and Social Services, or visit dhss.mo.gov/AAA/index.

For crop insurance

Written by James D. Ritchie on .

Should you order the COMBO deal?

When you visit your crop insurance agent this winter, be prepared for a new lesson in lingo. USDA's Risk Management Agency has rolled several crop risk products into one overall policy, nicknamed "Combo" (for Common Crop Insurance Policy Basic Provisions). So, you'll need to learn to speak Combo-ese.

"The Combo role creates one insurance plan that replaces five similar plans, which greatly simplifies the insurance process for agents and promotes better understanding of options available for producers," said William J. Murphy, RMA administrator. "The Combo plan also reduces paperwork, since multiple, similar plans are rolled up into one insurance plan."

With Combo, you make choices within one of three versions of a single basic policy instead of taking out several different policies."Other than the language, though, not much has changed with the actual coverage," said Bryan Human, Gibson Insurance, Tipton, Mo. "Growers will find that the Combo policy offers the same yield and revenue protections as former products."

Premiums stay essentially the same for equivalent levels of risk protection, as does the USDA premium subsidy rate. Most of the premium goes to pay for yield protection.

The Combo package went into effect with the 2010 wheat crop, and there are some changes here. For one, the projected price for revenue protection options is the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) settlement for the month of September, rather than July. (Note: the projected price under Combo—for all crops—is the average CBOT settlement price, which has been the basis for crop revenue insurance for the past 10 years or longer.)

Insurance enrollment for 2011 spring-planted crops runs through March 15, 2011. Art Barnaby, Kansas State University ag economist, checks off the coverage changes and terminology shifts under the Combo plan.

Combo Yield Protection replaces actual production history (APH, alias Multi-Peril coverage). However, Combo still uses historical yields to set guarantees, and needs at least four years of history, up to an average of 10 years. There's one major change: The Combo yield protection contract uses the same price election as revenue protection contracts. Yield protection is the same for all three Combo options.

Combo Price Protection (with harvest price exclusion) replaces Revenue Assurance (RA) with no harvest price option and Income Protection (IP), at the same percentage levels as under the previous policies.

Combo Price Protection replaces Crop Revenue Coverage (CRC) and RA with the harvest price option. This choice uses the historical yield multiplied times either the base price or the harvest price, whichever is higher. Combo makes payments if revenue shortfall drops below the guarantee. However, RMA limits revenue policies to no more than twice the base price, should harvest price increase by more than that amount.

The harvest price endorsement, in effect, turns yield protection into yield replacement coverage. A grower who has forward-priced grain on forward contracts, hedges, put options, etc., will either be assured enough bushels or enough dollars to replace those guaranteed bushels at current market value, and therefore offset his forward-marketing position.

County yield-based group insurance, including GRP and GRIP, will still be available with no changes. The Combo rule does not replace or change these group-risk plans.

If you own an active crop insurance policy (or policies) and do not change or cancel your coverage by March 15, your 2010 coverage will automatically be rolled to a similar Combo product, as detailed above.
So, forget APH, CRC and Multi-Peril; they no longer exist. Combo is the new game in town where crop insurance is concerned.
 

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