The federal crop insurance program remains strong and a critical part of farmers’ risk management plans, but to make certain it remains strong, farmers and legislators must focus on improving and expanding the program.

“We need to position crop insurance so that producers can rely on it for years to come,” said Brandon Willis, administrator, USDA Risk Management Agency.

Willis, speaking at the 56thannual meeting of Plains Cotton Growers last week in Lubbock, said crop insurance has already become a crucial aspect of U.S. farmers’ safety net.

Some 90 percent of U.S. cotton farmers enrolled in the crop insurance program last year and cotton growers received more than $1 billion in indemnities following losses for 2012. “For every $1 in premium, crop insurance returned $1.29 in indemnities,” Willis said.

To keep the program strong, the industry should focus on three areas over the next few years, he said.

The first is fraud, waste and abuse. “Program integrity is essential. Fraud, waste and abuse hurt farmers and jeopardize public support. We’ve already made progress with a data mining program that includes innovative weather tools.”

That program, Willis said, was responsible for identifying crop insurance fraud in North Carolina and resulted in more than $100 million in restitution.

“We will use all the resources we can to decrease errors and fraud and take away ammunition from crop insurance critics.”

A second focus point will be expanding crop insurance to more producers. “We know there are areas where insurance is inadequate or unavailable,” he said. He hopes to get the message out that crop insurance does more than “protect the bottom line. It also provides peace of mind. We’ve come a long way in expansion,” he said, “but we still have crops and enterprises that do not have adequate coverage — livestock, for instance.”