Extreme weather is threatening crop production on several fronts this season. A scorching drought has withered the winter wheat crop in the Southern Plains, historic flooding has swamped states along the Mississippi, and cool, wet weather has stymied planting efforts in the Northern Plains, Canadian Prairies and Eastern Corn Belt.
Doug Hagel is the Risk Management Agency's regional office director in Billings, Mont. Although an official tally isn't available yet, he says this could be one of the worst years on record for unplanted acreage in the Northern Plains.
"To me this is probably going to be one of the worst years yet for producers," Hagel said. "In the past we've had different areas in our region, which we cover four states, seeing that there are areas worse than other, but this year we're seeing the whole state of North Dakota for one thing, and a lot of South Dakota into Minnesota so we're thinking this could be worse than 1999 when we had three-million."
While visiting with producers, Hagel says there was talk about changing some of the final planting dates for crop insurance coverage.
"We really need to look at our final planning dates and see if there are some things we can do differently," Hagel said. "I think we can because of the fact that we're really in a different climate than we were 10 or 15 years ago, genetics have changed a lot on the crops, so I really think there are some things that we can do differently to benefit the producer but also keep the integrity of the program, which is very important."
Meanwhile, Risk Management Agency Administrator Bill Murphy says changes are on the way for prevented planting eligibility beginning in the 2012 crop year. While this year's weather problems are unique Murphy says lessons learned from past natural disasters are providing guidance.
"A lot of people don't realize that usually every year we run into prevented planting issues somewhere," Murphy said. "Late planting option, growers not being able to get in at all, needing to get in earlier so usually every year we experience somewhere so even though some of these issues are new to folks in North Dakota, we've experienced it before and apply that to the current year's problem."
Murphy says RMA does have to make tweaks to the program. For example the intentional breech of the levees along the Mississippi was something they had never dealt with before and had to work through.
Budgets have been getting tighter for many government agencies, but Murphy is confident that his agency and the private industry will have the manpower and resources to handle the multiple weather disasters this year.