HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) – Kansas farmers have already claimed a record amount in crop insurance for losses suffered during a lingering drought last year, and the claims are expected to surpass $1 billion, a federal agriculture official said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its weekly report it had paid $987.3 million to Kansas farmers so far on 6.4 million acres. That total included $20 million paid out in the past week, said Rebecca Davis, director of the department's Risk Management Agency office in Topeka.
“I expect us to reach the $1 billion mark,” she said.
“No other year comes close to matching the dollars paid out to farmers for their crop insurance losses to the 2011 crop year,” Davis told The Hutchinson News (http://bit.ly/ye3JlO ).
The claims easily break the previous record for crop insurance claims set in 2002, when Kansas farmers received $446.8 million.
With only 81 percent of expected claims across the country completed, the government already has paid a record $9.1 billion to farmers in 2011, which surpasses the former record of $8.67 billion in 2008, according to National Crop Insurance Services, a trade group that compiled the USDA data.
Davis' agency reported that Kansas farmers were paid $216.9 million for wheat losses, $178.9 million for soybeans, $174.7 million for grain sorghum and $406.9 million for corn. Most of the losses are from drought and heat, with some damage from flooding and hail.
The high payouts also resulted from higher commodity prices and higher levels of coverage chosen by farmers, David said. The agency's wheat harvest price was $8.18 a bushel. In 2002, farmers were paid $3 to $4 a bushel for their wheat losses.
Davis estimated that about 85 percent of Kansas farmers participate in the federal crop insurance program, with government subsidizing 59 percent of the premiums.
In all, limited rain and more than 50 days of triple-digit heat this summer cost Kansas $1.7 billion in crop losses, which doesn't include the weather's impact on the livestock industry, said Kansas Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Chelsea Good.
After fall rains and a recent snowstorm, about 25 percent of the state is considered in an extreme to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That's an improvement over four months ago, when nearly half the state was placed in those categories.
That doesn't mean the drought is nearly over, Kansas State Climatologist Mary Knapp said.
The forecast through April calls for the drought to persist across the state's southwest, she said. Drier than normal conditions are expected from Hutchinson west, with some improvement forecast in the east.
“They got some rain in November and December, but the improvement is that they are up from an exceptional drought category to extreme drought category,” she said of southwest Kansas. “Is there improvement? Yes. Is it (the drought) over? No.
“If we don't get our normal spring rains, there are no reserves to carry the crops through,” she said.
Information from: The Hutchinson News, http://www.hutchnews.com