Farmers can avoid some tricky situations if they approach federal crop insurance properly.

• Prevented planting

A prevented planting payment is made when there is an insured cause of loss that prevents planting of a crop. However, there are two additional requirements.

“First, other producers must have been prevented from planting in the same area with similar characteristics. The words to remember are ‘area’ and ‘similar characteristics,’” says Grant Ballard, an attorney with Banks Law Firm in Little Rock.

According to the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), “area” is subject to multiple interpretations. “Generally, the RMA says the area isn’t defined by soil type but by your cause of loss. That means all acreage impacted by cause of loss can be included in this area for prevented planting purposes.”

The “similar characteristics” requirement is where comparable geography, topography, soil types and the like come into the equation.

An issue that’s come up with Ballard’s clients is prevented planting in drought. “Certain farmers will plant and pray for rain. There isn’t enough moisture, but you think rain is coming and you can get a good stand,” says Ballard, also a research consultant for the National Agricultural Law Center (NALC) at the University of Arkansas.

“Meanwhile, a neighboring farmer is saying, ‘I’m not going to plant. There isn’t enough moisture and it isn’t going to rain. I’m going to go with a prevented planting payment.’”

The RMA has decided that drought presents a situation where planting may not be a good farming practice, says Ballard. “And you can collect a payment even when your neighbor plants and prays for rain.

“However, you must document that planting at that time is a poor farming practice because of insufficient moisture. Get someone to back you up.”

Three things to remember, according to Ballard:

• Make prevented planting decisions on the basis of sound agronomic principles. Don’t make those decisions for economic reasons.

• Document, document, document. “You must have something to back up your claim. Weather data is always requested by the insurance provider when you get into a crop insurance dispute.”

• Prevented planting acreage can sometimes be found in the same areas as planted acreage.

Producers should seek out data from sources “whose business is to record and study the weather. Farm Service Agency county committee minutes are sometimes used. National Weather Service documents will satisfy the requirement. Extension agents, university employees can serve as agricultural experts.”

Make sure you’re paid up on the sales closing date, warns Ballard.

“Last summer, I had several calls from producers in the Midwest. They said ‘I went in prior to Feb. 28 and the insurance agent said I was paid up and they sold me a policy. Now it’s June and I’ve got a statement saying I’m not insured. I have no crop and if I don’t get the insurance money I won’t farm next year.’