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Associated Press, Published August 28 2013

Confusing crop insurance rule clarified for 2014

BISMARCK — Farmers say they're pleased with efforts by the federal Risk Management Agency to clarify rules for prevented planting insurance in five Upper Midwest states.

The insurance pays farmers if their cropland is too wet or dry to plant. They must meet certain rules to qualify, and confusion over those rules led many farmers, particularly in North Dakota, to wonder if they would qualify on land they couldn't plant last spring because of wet weather.

North Dakota's congressional delegation asked the Risk Management Agency to clarify the rules, and the agency has done so starting with the 2014 crop year. Risk Management Agency Administrator Brandon Willis met with North Dakota farmers on Tuesday about the changes.

"The goal is to make federal crop insurance policy more objective and to provide clarity for the producers facing prevented planting losses," said Willis, who made stops in Grand Forks and Minot, accompanied by U.S. Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

At issue was a rule aimed at preventing fraud. It bars farmers from collecting prevented planting payments on land that typically can't support crops. To collect, producers have to have planted a crop on the land in question at least once in the previous four years — commonly known as the one-in-four rule — proving the land can be productive in a "normal weather" year.

The question was whether drought-plagued 2012 would count toward the one-in-four requirement because a Risk Management Agency memo classified that year as "abnormally" dry.

Under the changes announced Monday, beginning in 2014, a farmer who plants and harvests a crop in one of four years — regardless of the weather situation — is eligible for prevented-planting coverage.

"I like the change. It's clear, it's understandable," Randy Melvin, a Buffalo farmer and director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, told the Grand Forks Herald.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Woody Barth said in a statement that the clarification was "much needed for family farmers and ranchers."