Farming is in my blood, and I'm proud of that. I grew up on my family's sheep ranch in northern Utah and managed our raspberry farm before coming to USDA.
For the past three years, as Administrator for the Department's Risk Management Agency (RMA), I've sat across the table and listened to producers who, like myself back in Utah, couldn't find an insurance product for their operation.
Natural disasters and unexpected events make agriculture a risky business, so having a strong safety net is essential for today's farmers and ranchers. Nobody knows that better than RMA.
We're proud of the safety net that RMA provides for America's farmers and ranchers. A key component of that safety net is the public-private partnerships that enable us to deliver crop insurance, so it wasn't surprising when I was asked to be on a panel discussing 'The Future of Agricultural Credit and Insurance Provision Through Public-Private Partnerships' at this year's Agricultural Outlook Forum on Feb. 26, here in Washington, D.C.
Working with the private sector, we developed products like Whole-Farm Revenue Protection for smaller and diversified producers so they can insure all of the crops and livestock on their farm under one policy. We held more than 120 events in 2014 to educate producers about the Whole-Farm option. To date, there are nearly 1,100 Whole-Farm policies across the country providing $1.1 billion in coverage.
Crop insurance has become one of the true success stories of farm policy in the past 40 years. There are two reasons for this. First, crop insurance balances the interests of producers and taxpayers. Second, it is delivered in a way that marries the strengths of the private and public sectors.
The competition between the 17 private insurance companies and their agents who sell and service the individual crop insurance policies drives customer service and efficiency. Claims are typically paid within 30 days to help our producers get back on their feet, much faster than other farm relief programs. And the private sector has proven it will respond rapidly to unexpected events. The drought of 2012 is a prime example of this.
The public sector's strengths benefit the crop insurance program in many ways. As a regulator, we ensure the fairness of policies and set the rules. We also make sure that policy rates are accurate and that there's crop insurance options for all producers, large, small – and everywhere in between. Over the past three years, we have offered new options and expanded coverage for so many producers who had traditionally been left out of the farm safety net, making our nation's food production more resilient.
RMA also forms partnerships for education and outreach programs, especially focusing on underserved farmers and ranchers around the country. Over the past 10 years, RMA has awarded $124 million for these partnerships. In 2015 alone, nearly 90,000 farmers and ranchers participated in our outreach events.
Our bottom line: Through strong public-private partnerships we're working together to help keep farmers in business.
Brandon Willis is an administrator with the USDAs Risk Management Agency