Did you know that the USDA named July as National Blueberry Month in 1974? Blueberries are one of the many crops we offer risk management options for our nation’s diverse farmers. Blueberries are a great example of a commodity with a policy we have tailored and retailored to meet the needs of growers and the evolving marketplace. In 2017 we adjusted the policy to cover container-grown blueberries, and in 2020 allowed for their inclusion under the Hurricane Indemnity Program, popularly known as HIP. These changes contributed to a 61% overall increase in Federal crop insurance liabilities for the sweet commodity, from approximately $220 million in 2017 to more than $350 million today. The maximum coverage level was increased from 75% to 85% in 2021.

July is National Blueberry Month. The fruit accounted for more than $350 million in Federal crop insurance liabilities last year.

At the heart of our many crop programs, like blueberries, are the policy writers. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a great team that brings real-life crop insurance solutions to the evolving challenges America’s farmers and ranchers face today and ensures Federal crop insurance remains a pillar in their risk management strategy.

RMA’s Policy Administration Branch is responsible for translating the everyday agricultural needs of farmers into technical and legal policy language. RMA insures over 500 different commodities, with a rich diversity of types, practices, and growing conditions nationwide. With such a diverse crop portfolio, we can reach underserved producers and areas, veterans, socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop farmers, urban growers, and other groups and locations.

Our Policy Administration Branch utilizes a vast coalition of our public and private agricultural partners to stay current on new practices, risks, and mitigation techniques. As agriculture and climate evolve, we must remain on the frontlines with a safety net.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Chandra Mason, Policy Administration Branch Chief, about her team and how they contribute to our program equity goals.

Richard: What you and your team does has quite an impact on expanding the Federal crop insurance program. What is the biggest challenge your team faces regularly?
Chandra: We have such a rich, vast, and diverse agricultural sector in America that stakeholders can often pull us in different directions simultaneously. It requires that everyone on the team change directions on the fly while still meeting tight deadlines.

Richard: I’m amazed at how far we have come in the amount of commodities we cover, from pistachios to shellfish. How many policies do you publish each year?
Chandra: We have been breaking records lately! Just this spring, we released around 20 new or updated policies. We have an exceptional amount of support from RMA leadership, FPAC regulatory support staff, Office of General Counsel, the FCIC Board of Directors, and partnerships with grower groups and insurance companies. Their support is critical to ensuring our policies remain nimble and responsive to the onslaught of a pandemic, drought, hurricanes, evolving economic conditions, etc., facing our farmers today.

RMA Policy Administration Branch Chief Chandra Mason (R) visits a fresh market vegetable farm with Cornell Extension specialist Maire Ullrich (L) in Orange County, New York

Richard: What do you attribute your team’s success too?
Chandra: Of course, I'm biased, and I think the Policy Branch is the greatest. But the team extends far beyond my branch. At every level and in every branch, we share a commitment to our mission. Even looking more broadly at our public-private partnership with insurance companies, we're all working together with a common goal. We have cross-functional workgroups and public-private task forces continuously researching targeted improvements.

Richard: It seems like you and your team are passionate about what you do. What is your favorite part of your job?
Chandra: I love this question. It’s one that I answer frequently when I describe my job to people unfamiliar with crop insurance or agriculture. Almost everyone is familiar with insurance for their car or home. It’s not hard to imagine a bad storm leaving you without transportation or leaving you in temporary housing while insurance helps you with repairs. That’s a scenario most everyone can relate to. For farmers, a bad storm could leave them without income for a whole year. That can be a chilling realization to people who aren’t familiar with farming and agriculture. Crop insurance could be the only thing saving a multi-generation farm from bankruptcy, preserving family traditions and rural livelihoods.

I am proud to have Chandra and her dedicated staff on our team and thank them for highlighting program equity through such a large variety of insurable crops. With publishing 20 policies this spring, you are sure to see more of their work in future press releases. You can find a recent PAB release in 2021 News.

RMA Acting Administrator Richard Flournoy (R) responds to questions at the North Dakota State University Carrington Research Extension Center in Carrington, North Dakota. (L to R) North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux, U.S. Senator John Hoeven.

Before closing I want to mention that earlier this month I accompanied U.S. Senator John Hoeven and North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring for a drought tour across their state. I thank them both for their hospitality. I also thank our regional office in Billings, Montana, for their outstanding support of ranchers and farmers impacted by this year’s extreme drought conditions. This is when what we do matters most. Please keep the producers and all impacted by drought in your thoughts as we hope for conditions to improve.

– Richard