Congressman seeks to help popcorn growers PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL RYAN Sentinel Farm Editor   
Saturday, 09 November 2013 08:48
WASHINGTON - Northwest Ohio is a significant contributor to Ohio's distinction as one of the larger popcorn producing states in the country. Recent decisions by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) of the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) has put a crimp in the growers' ability to insure their popcorn.
While popcorn is not one of the major Wood County crops it is still important to those who grow the snack corn.
Congressman Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) recently sent a letter to the RMA administrator, Brandon Willis, expressing his concerns with a recently finalized rule that folds current crop group risk insurance plans into a new single Area Risk Protection Insurance (ARPI) plan.
"I want to ensure that policies, such as the ARPI rule, do not place farmers at a disadvantage that hurts their ability to manage risk for popcorn production, as well as jeopardize future supplies of popcorn that could increase prices for consumers," the letter reads.
At issue is the potential elimination of allowing growers to insure their popcorn crop using "written agreements" to insure their popcorn crop at the same value as their field corn.
Latta noted in his letter, "Under this new rule, written agreements for specialty crops, such as popcorn, will no longer be allowed and in turn farmers and growers will no longer be able to purchase extra protection for their popcorn crop, which will reduce their risk management options."
The congressman noted recent data showed 165 popcorn crop growers in the state, and approximately 95 popcorn growers in his Fifth Congressional District.
Rob Rettig, a popcorn grower from Napoleon, said he was likely the one that tipped Latta to this issue.
"The fact that they did this really surprised us. They kind of threw us a curve ball," Rettig said in a telephone interview on Friday.
He said the policy change goes against the normal trends and tenets of the RMA normal operation. "The RMA has a history of trying to make more things available and easy for growers,"  the farmer said noting the written agreements is a simple and easy process and should be of minimal cost to the government to manage.
Because of the way it is structured he said there's no fraud, you can't cheat and there is minimal paperwork.
"The other insurance alternatives aren't nearly as comparable as the field corn insurance products provides. It puts you at a disadvantage to the field corn," Rettig said. "The popcorn policy is not as good but the written agreement puts you right on par."
Rick Fruth who partners with Rettig agreed comparing the variety of health care insurance policies available to the public to the crop insurance policies.
"There are multiple kinds of insurance, offering different coverage at different levels," Fruth said. "Suddenly one of those options is not available to us."
With the elimination of the written agreements Fruth says it makes popcorn less competitive with field corn."
Don Treier, owner of the Pelton Popcorn operation in Bloomdale, said he does not use the written agreements nor the group rating option for insuring his popcorn.
"If I have a problem I want paid on my problem, not the county average," Treier said of the Area Risk plan.
As far as he knows he will still be able to continue insuring his crop on a regular policy and not opt for a group or written agreement form of insurance.
His operation is different than many other popcorn growers as he says, "We're the only place that only sells retail product."
Most other growers sell to national operations where they process and sell the corn under their brands.
Boasting of his quality Treier said, "There is very little grown like I grow it. If they're still insuring popcorn under the standard program, it won't apply to me either way."
Jonathan Haines of the Farm Service Agency in Bowling Green said as of now, popcorn remains an insurable crop in Wood County as it is in Henry County. He also noted it is a county by county option based on the volume of the crop grown. For example, apples are not an insurable crop in Wood County.
He also shared that popcorn is at a higher risk than traditional field or sweet corn as it is susceptible to wind and lodging.
According to several sources, as Rettig referred to this change almost went unnoticed. There is some discussion as to how the required comment period for changes went either unnoticed or not held. If there was a comment period Rettig said it is on a website not regularly visited.
"Individual farmers are not going to sit around and watch that website," the grower said.
Latta summarized in his letter to the administrator, "I want to ensure that policies such as the ARPI rule, do not place farmers at a disadvantage that hurts their ability to manage risk for popcorn production."
Latta also noted how if it affects the growers it could also drive up prices for the consumers.
"This will clearly knock down popcorn a bit as compared to field corn. We may be slightly less inclined to grow popcorn," Fruth said.
That would push popcorn prices higher if more growers abandon popcorn.
 

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