Crop Insurance for the Organic Farmer

The federal crop insurance program was designed to help farmers recover some portion of expected income in the advent of a crop loss or failure. Crop insurance helps even out annual income and can reduce the stress of worrying about possible losses.

Crop insurance options


Feds Improve Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) Crop Insurance for 2016

By Ann Robinson, NCAT

As Whole-Farm Revenue Program (WFRP) crop insurance rolls out nationwide for its second year, farmers will find that the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) has made some significant improvements. The changes, which help address some of WFRP’s early shortcomings, are likely to make the program more popular with its target audience of diversified, specialty crop, and organic producers.

WFRP is intended to cover a mix of crops and livestock grown or raised on a farm rather than to insure a specific crop, unlike traditional crop insurance policies. The program protects against the loss of insured revenue due to unavoidable natural causes and market price declines.

Modifications for 2016 include:

  • Streamlining some aspects of the program, especially recordkeeping requirements for direct marketers. RMA will also provide recordkeeping aids tailored to assist such producers.
  • Reducing tax history requirements for qualifying Beginning Farmers and Ranchers (BFR) to three years of prior farm tax returns, as long as they also farmed the (lag) year before the insured year. BFR producers may also qualify for an extra 10% premium subsidy.
  • Offering higher coverage for expanding operations, increasing their insurance guarantee up to 35% of their average revenue history.
  • Eliminating a 35% limit on expected revenue from animals and animal products, and nursery and greenhouse products — while retaining the overall insurance cap of $1 million on revenue from these products.

Producers Early Interest

Though signups were slow in the program’s first year, interest appears to be growing. Preliminary data showed that 581 producers enrolled in WFRP for 2015, most of them in the Northwest, where growers had experience with earlier whole-farm products. In the Midwest, Indiana growers were the most enthusiastic, taking out 25 policies. Michigan had 22, Illinois had 14, and Wisconsin, six. Only two farmers enrolled in each of the states of Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri.

Farmers indicate they want to learn more about the program, based on an informal evaluation that the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) conducted with producers and others who attended webinars, presentations, and field days on WFRP during the program’s first season. Many of the 50 respondents said they had never participated in crop insurance programs. Most felt they did not have enough information, but based on their early knowledge, many characterized WFRP as a “good concept.” Positive views included the following:

  • “Coverage can reflect the higher values of organic and specialty crop practices.”
  • “You can insure vegetables.”
  • “It’s a good thing to have a program that provides an economic safety net for more diversified farmers.”

The list of concerns centered on WFRP’s complexity and paperwork requirements, exemplified by one producer’s comment: “The whole-farm basket approach means you may have a loss on one crop, but the other crops have a high-enough revenue that it offsets the loss. With this in mind, will it be worth the paperwork to enroll?” Several expressed the view that premiums would be too costly for small farms. And a few opposed the whole idea of crop insurance and/or thought it would always favor large farms.

A more extensive survey of farmers’ views of WFRP by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) found that respondents cited similar barriers and benefits. In addition, RAFI’s findings highlighted crop insurance agents’ critical role in educating farmers. According to the authors, “Perceived barriers to WFRP, such as the cost of the policy, paperwork and recordkeeping can be overcome through education about and further experience with crop insurance.”

Program basics and changes

In 2015, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) introduced WFRP as a pilot program, available in 45 states. It replaced previously existing whole-farm policies that offered lower coverage and were available in much more limited areas.

As in its pilot year, WFRPs unique premium discount for diversification increases for up to seven commodities, though more can be included in the policy. The main exceptions are forest and forest products, and animals for sport, show, or pets. The policy can account for higher-value specialty crops, and covers basic market readiness activities and expanding operations. Producers can insure up to $8.5 million of revenue at coverage levels from 50% to 85%. The policy is significantly subsidized up to 80% for all but the two highest levels of coverage (80% and 85%), similar to conventional crop insurance programs.

One change that will attract diversified producers is the greatly expanded list of approved commodities for counties, compared to the program’s initial lists. Another important revision will allow “contemporaneous” marketing records to be used to calculate revenue. Initially, farmers needed third-party verified records, which were impractical for those that market directly to the public. RMA will also provide recordkeeping aids to assist direct marketers.

Interested producers should contact a crop insurance agent to explore the program’s potential for their operation. Signups started in early September and the last date to purchase will be the same as other crop insurance closing dates for a county. Agents working for RMA-endorsed Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) are required to offer the WFRP program to all eligible persons. However, agents themselves are still learning about the program — and their interest is likely to be influenced by demand.

That demand is likely to keep growing, as a result of changes to WFRP for 2016. By helping to level the risk-management playing field for diversified and organic producers, WFRP is starting to look like a tool that could change the landscape.

More information about the WFRP program is available on the USDA Risk Management Agency website at For a list of approved crop insurance agents by state, go to:

You can also find more details in NCAT’s “Primer on Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) Crop Insurance: Updates for Producers in 2016.”

NCAT’s Midwest Regional Office in Iowa was awarded a Risk Management Education Partnership cooperative agreement through the RMA. The parties involved are equal opportunity providers.

Ann Y. Robinson, an agricultural specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology. NCAT is a national nonprofit that champions small-scale, local, and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.

In partnership with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI), MOSES was recently awarded funding from the USDA Risk Management Agency for a project titled “Supporting Farm Diversification and Risk Management through Education about Whole Farm Revenue Protection Crop Insurance.” Through this partnership agreement MFAI and MOSES, along with other partners, will create conference workshops, newsletter articles, a webinar, webpages and field day presentations about the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program and other crop insurance programs relevant to organic and sustainable farmers. Look for information about those offerings throughout 2016.


More about Whole Farm Crop Insurance

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition explains the application process and FAQs.

Risk Management Agency WFRP website


Other Federal Crop Insurance Options

September 2015
The Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced 14 new Organic Price Elections to be added to the 30 that are already available, expanding crop insurance options for organic farmers. These new organic price elections will be available for the 2016 crop year. Organic price elections allow organic farmers to insure their crop at the organic market price rather than at the generally much lower conventional market price.

The new elections include: Wheat, barley, rye, dry peas, safflower, cultivated wild rice, cabbage, cranberries, forage production, onions, potatoes, processing clingstone peaches, grass seed, and sugarcane. Additionally, for 2017, there will be elections available in Arizona and California for lemons, oranges, tangelos, mandarins, and grapefruit.

Some of these crops will have policies available in every county or state a conventional policy is currently available, but some will have more limited availability.

Along with the new elections for 2016, RMA also announced an increase in the availability of the Contract Price Addendum, which is being made available to 73 crops, up from 62. This product allows producers to insure a crop at the price for which they contract the production of the crop.


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