Alfalfa growers may be closer to gaining federal crop insurance coverage on par with that available to growers of other farm commodities.

The Senate last week passed an amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill directing the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) to research and develop a strong insurance policy for alfalfa. The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS).

Moran called the current crop insurance program for alfalfa, Forage Production APH, “severely inadequate” in a news release issued shortly after the Senate vote. He noted that less than 10% of alfalfa acreage is enrolled in the program. That sharply contrasts with corn, soybean and wheat insurance program enrollments all averaging more than 80%.

“Although alfalfa is one of America’s most valuable crops (ranking fourth in dollar value), the safety net for alfalfa pales in comparison. In fact, alfalfa has seen a decline in acres that can, in part, be attributed to bankers telling producers to plant program crops rather than alfalfa due to no safety net for the crop.”

While USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is supportive of alfalfa insurance, it is currently prohibited from researching and developing new risk tools for management of alfalfa, the news release added. A new program would “give animal agriculture less expensive inputs and allow farms to diversify their production. Additionally, consumers will be provided with a less expensive and more abundant food supply.”

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The amendment’s passage was welcome news for members of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA), an industry group that has been leading calls for changes in the alfalfa insurance program.

“Current risk management tools for alfalfa are not available in all states, and are inadequate when compared to other major crops,” says Robin Newell, NAFA chairman and senior business manager, forages, for DuPont Pioneer. “ This amendment would give RMA the green light to research and develop more effective risk tools for alfalfa. We are hopeful these tools will give alfalfa parity with the risk management tools available to other major crops.”

The amendment may still come under scrutiny when the House of Representatives takes up the Farm Bill. But Newell saysthe fact the amendment passed the Senate by a 72-18 margin was a good sign. “It doesn’t appear to be highly controversial,” he says. “There’s a good level of support there. We’re hopeful the amendment will be included when the Farm Bill is finally passed.”

This video shows Moran introducing the amendment on the Senate floor.

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