Eight more Florida counties now eligible for blueberry crop insurance


BLUEBERRY GROWERS in eight more Florida counties are now eligible to purchase insurance through the federal government for the blueberry crop that will come to harvest in 2016. The announcement came July 8 in a memo from Brandon C. Willis, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA).

For blueberries, the government’s 2016 Expansion of Existing Fall Crops Programs makes crops insurable in these additional Florida counties: Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Pasco, and Sumter. Before the July 8 announcement, Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) originating with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation was available only for blueberry crops in Highlands, Alachua, Polk, Hillsborough, and Putnam counties.

“The Risk Management Agency is continuing the policy of expanding crop insurance programs, particularly where interest by producers has been shown,” Willis says in his memo. He says the RMA’s latest action “is consistent with the Administration’s policy of providing producers the opportunity and responsibility for managing their own risk for their farming operations.”

Where the MPCI is available, it will cover only permanently established blueberry operations and not pilot programs. The federal insurance can be purchased from a variety of agencies, including Lakeland-based Farm Credit of Central Florida.

Regina Thomas, a senior vice president of Farm Credit of Central Florida, says the expanded availability of MPCI in Florida makes crop insurance more affordable. Without it, blueberry growers have only one other insurance option — the federal government’s more limited Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), which covers losses only up to $125,000.

Thomas says the RMA’s insurance expansion announcement was a culmination of more than a year’s worth of research, letter writing, and lobbying by and on behalf of Florida’s blueberry growers. She says a request to Washington for wider availability of the MPCI was necessary because the Florida blueberry industry has expanded so greatly in recent years.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own Census of Agriculture, the number of blueberry farms in more than 19 blueberry-producing Florida counties increased 93 percent from 2007 to 2012, with blueberry acreage increasing 137 percent during that same period. This rate of growth underscores the necessity for blueberry crop coverage in more Florida counties to insure the substantial investment by growers.

Thomas says several organizations, agencies, and people were instrumental in the effort to win expanded MPCI coverage. They include the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, led by President Dudley Calfee and Immediate Past President Bill Braswell; individual blueberry growers; all the state senators and representatives from Florida counties; the office of Commissioner Adam Putnam at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; the Florida Cooperative Extension Service; the office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio; and several more federal senators and representatives.

“At the end of the day, Sen. Rubio’s office was very persuasive,” Thomas says. “There was a huge outpouring of support for the Florida Blueberry Growers Association.”

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A CENTRAL FLORIDA AG NEWS STAFF REPORT