With hay prices at or near record highs in many states, it's more important than ever to insure your forage crops.

Unfortunately, there are no exciting new insurance programs for forages. Recently introduced programs for corn, soybeans and certain other crops offer guaranteed incomes. But they aren't available for forages, and no new forage programs are on the horizon.

One reason: There are no widely accepted quality standards for forages. Also, wide variations in production practices, yields, etc., make it tough to design a policy for alfalfa, for example, that can be used nationwide.

Still, existing forage policies have some new wrinkles that you should check out. Here's what's available:

* Multiple-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI). The most popular type of forage-crop policy, MPCI can be used for protection against weather hazards such as hail damage, drought and winterkill. It's the best option for many growers.

"Right now, there's no question that our basic MPCI program is the best coverage in this area for the vast majority of our dairy operations," says Jeff Kitterman, an American Agrisurance agent at Sauk Centre, MN.

"Every MPCI policy I write includes winterkill," says Kitterman. "Most of my customers select the 65% level of coverage, and the cost is right around $12 an acre."

An MPCI policy offers a yield guarantee. It pays only in the event of a yield loss and offers no price protection.

* CAT (catastrophic coverage). The coverage is bare bones, but the cost also is low. Winterkill coverage, however, is no longer included.

* A forage seeding policy, which provides a dollar amount of insurance per acre from the time the acreage is seeded to alfalfa until a normal stand is established.

This policy is rather complicated and varies from region to region. See your local crop insurance agent for details.

* A group risk plan (GRP), intended to insure all farmers in the same county. Payments are based on county average yields. If all have losses, everyone gets paid. That, and the fact that the plan is low-cost and requires no recordkeeping, is the good news.

The bad news? Say your crop got hailed on, but the storm was not countywide. You probably won't get an indemnity payment.

GRP has six coverage levels: 65%, 70%, 75%, 80%, 85% or 90% of the expected county yield. County yields are based on data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), adjusted for trends.

This program is not available everywhere. Ask about it at your Farm Service Agency office.

The above programs are all based on production only -- there is no payment for quality losses. But if growers want better forage-crop insurance policies, perhaps they can get it done.

New crop insurance programs usually start with growers and their organizations. They outline the kind of insurance they think will work for their crop, and take their outline to insurance companies. The companies then come back with a proposal.