The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making its insurance for farmers more accessible than ever, but it remains to be seen if Hawaii will start taking advantage of the improved options.

After stakeholder and customer feedback, the department has made adjustments to its Whole-Farm Revenue Protection and Micro Farm Program — the two most inclusive protection options, according to Marcia Bunger, USDA’s Risk Management Agency administrator.

Both options protect crop and livestock on the farm under one insurance policy, including farms with specialty or organic commodities, and offer protection against the loss of insured revenue due to unavoidable natural causes which occur during the insurance period. Bunger said crop insurance eligibility from losses is driven by weather-related events.

Rows of Pineapple crowns that were recently hand planted located between Wahiawa and Haleiwa with Waianae Mountains in the background.
According to data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were a total of 7,328 farms in Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Now, they’ve increased the maximum insurable revenue for WFRP to $17 million from $8.5 million, and to $350,000 from $100,000 for approved revenue for micro farm operations to be eligible. Bunger said the rates vary by county, and that the department has cut down initial paperwork requirements.

The WFRP launched after the $956 billion federal Farm Bill passed in 2014, but the USDA Micro Farm Program is only a year old. Both insurance options are available in all counties in all 50 states.

To improve and increase participation in crop insurance, the USDA Risk Management Agency Roadshow series has been holding virtual workshops. The next one is at 6 p.m., Tuesday.

Official portrait, Marcia Bunger Administrator for the United States Department of Agriculture, Risk Management Agency. USDA photo by Tom Witham.
Marcia Bunger is the first member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and the first woman to serve as USDA’s Risk Management Agency Administrator. Courtesy: Tom Witham

In 2022, almost 2,000 national WFRP policies were sold, with over $2 billion in liabilities, but only one policy was sold in Hawaii. Of the 27 Micro Farm Program policies sold, with almost $900,000 in liabilities, no policies were sold in Hawaii, according to USDA data.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture director, Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, declined to comment on why farmers in Hawaii are not taking advantage of the federal programs.

Matthew Loke, the state’s lead agricultural economist, said micro farm producers likely have not had the educational exposure or the opportunity to review and analyze the cost and benefit details of the USDA program, and more local farmers, whether on a large or micro scale, perhaps could avail themselves of a potentially useful risk management tool to protect their crop revenue streams.

Loke said in Hawaii, both agricultural production and revenue could be adversely impacted by an array of severe weather events, such as landslides, drought, hurricanes, lava flows, excessive rains leading to runoff and other issues such as pests and predators.

“From my experience, federal crop insurance is well subsidized but eligibility is often a challenge facing local farmers,” Loke said. “Crop policy holders must keep meticulous production and revenue records of their agricultural enterprises.”

In an effort to specifically increase awareness of crop insurance in Hawaii, the USDA’s Risk Management Agency team visited the Big Island in July and met with ranchers, various farmers, the University of Hawaii’s Cooperative Extension, and the USDA Farm Service Agency.

The USDA Risk Management Agency team said one of the main goals of the field visit was to research the feasibility of designing a specific crop insurance option for ranchers in Hawaii.

Though the USDA offers a Pasture, Rangeland, Forage program on the mainland, it was not provided for Hawaii when initially developed because there was a lack of weather stations to provide an adequate database to determine losses.

Bunger said she hopes to make a trip to Hawaii herself soon. “That way we can meet with producers and agriculture organizations, because that to me is the best way to share what’s going on and things that we need to improve upon or change,” she said.

Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation. 

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