The producer occupies only one rung on the long crop insurance ladder. Above him is the USDA, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation. The relationship between the private insurance company offering crop policies and the RMA is governed by the Standard Reinsurance Agreement.

The policy between the producer and an insurance company isn’t just a standard insurance policy -- it’s federal law. As such, it must be strictly complied with. Every provision has to be satisfied by the producer.

“I represent farmers,” says Grant Ballard, an attorney with Banks Law Firm in Little Rock and a research consultant for the National Agricultural Law Center (NALC) at the University of Arkansas. “I’m basically the guy who gets the call when a crop insurance claim has been denied. The farmer will say, ‘This isn’t right. We want to hire you and get our money.’

“This places a huge burden on (producers). The policies are long and have small print, are complicated and aren’t fun to read. It’s impossible to know everything about federal crop insurance.”

But you do need to take the time to be aware of what the policy requires, says Ballard, who spoke at the Jan. 30 NALC-sponsored Farm Bill, Crop Insurance, and Related Legal Issues for Row Crop Producers in Morrilton, Ark. “In the end, that isn’t your agent’s responsibility. Crop insurance agents do a lot of great work and shoulder a lot of the burden for producers. But it isn’t their responsibility in the end. Federal law places the responsibility on the producer.”

Ballard continues to receive phone calls and questions on certain insurance-related issues.

  • Acreage reporting.

“A lot of times the insurance agent shoulders the burden of acreage reporting. That isn’t their responsibility. If they mess up, you can’t sue the crop insurance agency as recourse.

“It’s important you submit accurate and complete acreage reports. A simple over- or underestimation leads to a lower indemnity payment. In a tough year, that can be significant.”

Another thing that’s interesting: the RMA can get access to a producer’s Farm Service Agency documents.

“They’re both agencies under USDA and they can work back and forth. So, your FSA reports need to match your crop insurance documents as best as they can. If there’s a difference, you need to be able to document to the insurance company why that’s the case.”

  • Timely reporting.

Ballard says a producer with a yield loss should report it in a timely manner and document it in writing.

“Once a loss is discovered, under most policies you can contact the agent verbally and render your first notice. I recommend you always follow that up in writing.

“You don’t want to be six months down the line needing money while the agent says ‘I misplaced the claim’ or ‘I didn’t get your call.’ Always document in writing.”