Farm Bill Specialists at Ag Specialist

Pivot, sunset

T

he phone rang on her desk. Her cell phone buzzed to life every couple of minutes. Even at eight in the morning, when business hours opened, Kathy Brorman of Ag Specialist Insurance Agency was bombarded with questions.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, more commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill, had just been signed into law. Most of the country was focused on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program’s future; the dispute ended up being tabled. However, most farmers just wanted to know what was going to happen next year. It was business as usual for Kathy as she looked through the binders and spreadsheets that held most of her answers. The farmers she met daily all had similar questions.

“Can I grow hemp?” Kathy said was the new question of the month.

Under the new farm bill, hemp, the fibrous tissues of the cannabis plant, is insurable. The short answer to this now common question was ‘yes.’ However, only if the farmer wanted to get a permit from the state and be subject to regular inspections. The enforcement of which, as of March 2019, has yet to be determined by the Texas Legislature.

The 2018 Farm Bill passed on Dec. 12, 2018, and the bill itself has over 1,000 pages and something that affects every farmer in the United States. A document this large requires supplemental resources to help sort through the information and make it more understandable for farmers and others in the agriculture industry.

“It’s very overwhelming until someone can break it down for you,” Kathy said of the language and volume of paperwork and regulations farmers have to work within.

Farmers want to farm, and Kathy’s research and information let her help farmers do that.

She gets much of her information from the carriers she works with as well as commodity groups, including National Sorghum Producers. Kathy serves on the U.S. Grains Council and previously served on the United Sorghum Checkoff Program’s board of directors. Her service took her to Central and South America to help promote American grain.

“It has to be federal,” Kathy said about the bill.

To her, the size and scope of American agriculture are too large for each state to have its own farm policy. For example, the amount of sorghum grown in Kansas would affect the price in Texas and vice versa.

The 2018 Farm Bill was passed in 2018, just before its predecessor was set to expire. The 2014 bill was years late, and commodity prices had to be set retroactively from 2012. This farm bill has yet to set the base for commodity prices. That being said, Kathy and others like this farm bill. Farmers have more control over their coverage options from the last bill.

“It’s very overwhelming until someone can break it down for you.”

“Used to, you were stuck with your decision of coverage for the entire term of the last Farm Bill,” said Kaeli Hales, Ag Specialist’s other owner and agent that studies the Farm Bill.

“Being stuck” is referring to the former Farm Bill from 2014 which didn’t allow farmers to make their choice every year whether to have Price Loss or Area Risk coverages for their farms. They had to make their choice and could not change it year-to-year, and that coverage continued even if a farm changed hands. The new Farm Bill allows farmers to choose for 2018 through 2020 (the first two years) and every year after until 2023 when a few Farm Bill will be created.

Even though the 2018 Farm Bill passed, the government shut down two weeks later, and it wouldn’t open back up for another month. This meant that the Farm Service Agency offices were all closed. Kathy and the Ag Specialist team worked through the shutdown helping their farm customers with their FSA paperwork as though the government was about to open back up soon. The FSA had to hire temporary office staffers to help farmers file their annual reports in time.

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Farmers depend on their crops and livestock for their livelihood, so they need to insure these for that purpose.

The government opened back up soon, and more questions would come over the phone. Many were about when reference prices for 2018 are going to be announced. Those would not be released until the end of the current crop year. For example, if the sorghum crop year starts Sept. 1, 2018, then the 2018 reference prices will be released after considering the yields harvested between then and Aug. 31, 2019, for each respective county.

“Everything runs a year behind in that way,” Kathy said.

“We’re farmers,” Kathy said. “And I needed to learn this stuff so we’d know what to do on our farm.”

Before she started this service for her farm customers, Kathy would read the fact sheets and reports to learn the best course of action is for her family’s farm.

“I decided to incorporate this into an additional service,” Kathy said.

She and Kaeli at Ag Specialist now help not only insure farmers’ livelihoods but also help build the packets of paperwork and get them ready for the FSA. Now, local farmers can get back to what they do best: farming and feeding America.