Almost 296 million acres of U.S farmland were covered by crop insurance last year and because of that protection a lot of farms and jobs were saved.

“We believe a lot of people are farming this year who wouldn’t be without crop insurance,” says Brandon Willis, administrator, USDA Risk Management Agency.

Willis spoke of the growth of crop insurance as a means of protecting farm and ranch assets over the years and of the increasingly important role insurance will play in farm risk management under the recently enacted Agriculture Act of 2014 during the recent Plains Cotton Growers annual meeting in Lubbock.

“We have seen significant growth since 1999,” he said. About 19 percent of that growth has come from increased acreage enrollment and about 15 percent has come from higher levels of coverage.

Willis said the new farm law gives farmers the ability to “take control of risks. We have not had ad hoc disaster payments in more than seven years. Crop insurance has proven it can be the safety net.”

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He encouraged farmers to learn as much as possible about new programs before sign-up begins later this year. “Farm program implementation needs to be made in a timely manner, but it is easy to underestimate the number of decisions to determine how it is implemented. If it is not implemented in a timely but thoughtful way, we could see problems.”

Making crop insurance the keystone of the farm program comes after years of growth, especially in the past few years. Willis said 283 million acres were insured in 2012. That number increased to 295.8 million last year. Total premiums increased from $11.1 billion in 2012 to $11.7 billion in 2013. He emphasized that the program assures that farmers have skin in the game and pay significant amounts out of their own pockets—$20 billion over the last four years for premiums. “Cost is directly related to risk,” he said.

Farmers have some important deadlines coming up this year, he said. Livestock producers could begin signing up for disaster assistance on April 15.  He said web-based training and education tools will be available this summer on the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) options.

In the fall producers should begin updating production history with anticipated publication of farm program details. By late fall, producers will begin to elect either PLC or ARC coverage.