Timing is a crucial issue. “Since one of the determinants of SURE is based on the average price of the marketing year, producers must wait a full year to see if they will even qualify,” Vaughan said. “Any help SURE provides may come too late.”

He said SURE does not work well for diversified or larger farms “because it requires aggregation of all farms.  It does not work for most irrigated producers, those with a mix of irrigated and non-irrigated production, or those growing multiple crops.” That includes a lot of Southwest producers.

Delayed payments have been a critical issue for sorghum growers, said Plainview, Texas, cotton and grain producer Dan Smith, who represented the National Sorghum Producers at the hearing. “Some sorghum producers have suffered through two years of drought and are still waiting for payments,” he said.

“The program is complicated and FSA is having a difficult time distributing dollars to producers who need it the most. We encourage the committee to allow for immediate payments based on producers’ direct payments at some percentage to get money into the country. FSA can ‘square up’ when SURE is fully implemented.”

“We can’t wait a year to get payments,” said Cleavinger. “We’ll be out of business. We do recognize SURE as an improvement in terms of predictability over an ad hoc disaster program.”

Raun said SURE “provided little, if any, assistance to rice producers, including those in the Mid-South who last year suffered significant monetary losses due to heavy rains and flooding prior to and during harvest.”

Changes sought

Holt recommended changes to the SURE program, including:

  • Base the SURE program guarantee calculation on the higher of the crop insurance election or the target price for the commodity.
  • Strike the counting of 15 percent of direct payments received from the calculation of farm revenue.
  • Change the definition of eligible producer on a farm when assessing losses on a farm-by-farm basis as has been done in the past with ad hoc disaster programs. This would address the single biggest problem with SURE—by the time you aggregate everything on a whole farm basis, the likelihood of receiving any assistance is very small.
  • Direct USDA to provide producers more timely payments by either: (1) using an estimated national average market price instead of waiting until the end of the marketing year; or (2) direct the USDA to use the crop insurance price election for determining revenue instead of a national average market price.

He said changes would simplify the program and change it to address yield losses “without inviting the anomalies caused by bringing season average prices into the equation.”