Farm bill insurance changes help apple farmers

The orchard at Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery in Grand Rapids Township. (file)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The farm bill passed by the U.S. Senate Tuesday will benefit West Michigan farmers, the chair of the Michigan Apple Association said.

President Barack Obama will sign the bill into law Friday at Michigan State University.

Julia Rothwell comes from a long line of growers and now lobbies for fruit farms. She said she’s happy with this farm bill.

“Everyone benefits from good farm bill policy and this is very good farm bill policy,” she said.

The majority of crops in West Michigan are considered specialty crops, which include fruits, vegetables and nursery greenhouse products. Many changes in the farm bill affect row crops like corn, soybeans and other field crops. It’s the changes to crop insurance that will have the most affect on West Michigan farmers.

Two years ago, the Michigan fruit crop, including apples, was wiped out because of unusual weather conditions, leaving many farmers in the hole.

“In the past, we’ve had the frost. Last year, we’ve had hail storms that have wiped people out; wind storms, as well. So crop insurance is a very important thing for the grower to stabilized,” Rothwell said.

Farmers have always been able to get crop insurance, but the new farm bill makes it more affordable and streamlines the process of getting it.

“It’s much easier,” Rothwell said. “There were restrictions before had that made it extremely cost-prohibitive. It wasn’t common sense and that has rectified.”

This bill also allows cherries to get crop insurance for the first time.

The changes will provide a safety net for farmers when there is a bad year.

Rothwell also said the money the farm bill allows for research of invasive species that will help protect crops and, in turn, profits.

“If you have growers that are successful, they are employing people. They are buying products,” Rothwell said. “The growers in West Michigan support transportation companies, packaging companies, equipment companies banks, lending institutions, insurance companies. It’s all connected.”

Of course, there are critics of the bill. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says the sum of money that’s spent on farm subsidies and special interest pet projects is “mind-boggling.” He pointed to grants and subsidies for sheep marketing, sushi rice and the maple syrup industry.

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