Missouri Sues USDA Over Dates

State Officials Want Judge to Force USDA to Waive Crop Insurance Rules

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Dates set for final planting and final reporting are agreed upon by USDA and the crop-insurance companies that sell the policies. The Risk Management Agency announces the dates ahead of the start of planting season. (Logo courtesy of USDA)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Missouri officials filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against USDA over final crop planting dates for crop insurance.

The Missouri attorney general claims USDA is depriving Missouri farmers of crop insurance "for failing to submit acreage reports within an arbitrary and capricious grace period."

USDA's Risk Management Agency requires producers to file acreage reports by one of four different deadlines in Missouri, depending on where their farms are located. The deadline in northwest Missouri was July 10 with a five-day grace period, but because of record rainfall in the spring and early summer, farmers were still making planting decisions and failed to get their acreage reports in by July 15.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday asking for an extension for the planting dates. Vilsack responded that the department would not extend the grace period even though the acreage reports are not due for farmers in other parts of the state for another 15 days. Nixon then asked his state's attorney general, Chris Koster, to sue USDA over the lack of extension.

Koster stated that extraordinary circumstances caused by storms and floods should require USDA to grant an extension so farmers can file accurate reports to qualify for crop insurance.

"Missouri farmers rely on the availability of insurance to guard their crops against events beyond their control," Koster said. "The USDA should not punish farmers whose planting was delayed by unexpected rain and flooding by enforcing an arbitrary deadline. Millions of dollars in Missouri agriculture is at risk, and we will fight to make sure these resources are protected."

A USDA spokeswoman responded to DTN on Thursday in an email that the department recognized the challenges producers faced trying to plant soybeans this summer. However, the rules for setting locked-in crop insurance dates were spelled out by Congress.

"By law, USDA does not have the option to extend this deadline. We're confident that dedicated crop insurance agents have and will continue to help farmers take whatever steps are necessary to ensure they comply with the requirements of their crop insurance contracts to maintain their coverages," the spokeswoman stated.

Missouri farmers are among those in several states who have been unable to get into fields to plant because of persistent rains that began in mid-May throughout parts of the Corn Belt. Based on Monday's Crop Progress report from USDA, about 20% of Missouri's expected soybean acres were unplanted, as well as 20% of the expected sorghum acreage.

Most of northwest Missouri has a June 15 final planting date for soybeans. The coverage guarantee declines 1% everyday afterward. This means coverage protection levels would have fallen 25% from the June 15 final planting date to any soybean crop planted on the July 10 final reporting date.

The Missouri lawsuit states that the lack of a grace period means many farmers in northwest Missouri would not be able to obtain crop insurance. The lawsuit seeks a court order demanding USDA extend the grace period for all Missouri farmers by 15 days, as well as issue a permanent injunction against USDA from denying crop insurance to farmers in the state who were unable to meet the July 15 deadline.

Dates set for final planting and final reporting are agreed upon by USDA and the crop-insurance companies that sell the policies. The Risk Management Agency announces the dates ahead of the start of planting season.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clatyon@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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Chris Clayton