Rep. Andrea Salinas, lawmakers push for better insurance for specialty crop farmers ahead of Farm Bill renewal

Every five years, our nation’s leaders renew what’s known as the Farm Bill legislation that aims to improve protections for farms across the country
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 4:07 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Every five years, our nation’s leaders renew what’s known as the Farm Bill legislation that aims to improve protections for farms across the country as well as those facing food insecurity, and promotes agricultural research.

This year, smaller, specialty farms are a top priority for some lawmakers, including Oregon Representative Andrea Salinas.

Currently, there is more incentive for crop insurance agents to sell policies to larger farms as opposed to ‘specialty farms’ (those growing crops outside of the major crop categories like wheat and corn, defined by the USDA as ‘fruit and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops’) because the premium is higher.

However, that leaves smaller operations like F and B Farms in Woodburn at risk of being under-insured, especially during severe weather events.

“When mother nature steps in and when natural disasters step in, there’s really nothing we can do to protect ourselves against that,” owner Fred Geschwill said.

It was the day before their hops harvest began and the hazy skies above weren’t exactly good news.

“The hops actually absorb those chemicals in that smoke and you can actually detect it in your beer,” Geschwill said. “In that case, they start rejecting the hops and so our crop becomes worthless.”

In a good year, the third-generation farm rakes in around $3 million from hops alone, but as summers get hotter and skies get smokier, specialty crops like hops need more protection.

Those elements already pushed the crop close to a breaking point two years ago.

“Everyone remembers the massive heat dome that we had and the wildfires that were happening,” Geschwill said. “A lot of those wildfires put off massive amounts of smoke, which took the air quality index really close to 500.”

If the harvest had been delayed just a little bit longer, those profits would have been lost, along with security for the farm’s 50 employees- but it’s not a fear that major crop growers have to deal with.

“If we were wheat growers, if we were sweet corn growers, there are a number of government-backed insurance options for them,” Geschwill said. “On our farm, for hops, there really is no commercially available insurance whatsoever.”

Rep. Salinas and other lawmakers are pushing for the ‘Insuring Fairness for Family Farmers Act of 2023′ to be part of this year’s Farm Bill, in order to level the playing field and make it feasible for specialty crop farms to get the same insurance opportunities as others.

Geschwill said it’s not a question of if, but when, the elements will become too much to bear.

“We just assume it’s going to happen, and that’s why we’re asking the government to hey, don’t just give us a bunch of handouts but let us buy some insurance, let’s get a pool going so we can protect ourselves, and in case of an emergency which we really hope doesn’t happen, but we will have a little bit of backing there to support ourselves,” he said. “And knowing that when something happens, it’s not going to wipe out your whole family and all your savings, and that’s what the heat dome would’ve done to us.”

The current Farm Bill is expiring this year on September 30th.