Ask the Expert: A Specialty Crops Q&A with Tara Ponds

In this Ask the Expert, Tara Ponds, Specialty Crops Coordinator for the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) in Kansas City, Missouri, answers a few questions about crop insurance coverage for specialty crops. Tara is responsible for improving and expanding the crop insurance program for specialty crops.  

Tara has worked in the insurance industry in both the private and public sectors. Working in crop insurance appealed to Tara because she can continually focus on serving America’s farmers.

Tara has worked for RMA for 17 years and enjoys finding ways to meet the needs of specialty crop producers.
Tara has worked for RMA for 17 years and enjoys finding ways to meet the needs of specialty crop producers.

What are specialty crops and what specialty crop provisions were outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill?

Specialty crops include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture nursery crops.

The 2018 Farm Bill really focused on specialty crop insurance and included three key requirements for specialty crops:
•    designate Specialty Crop Liaisons in each RMA Regional Office;
•    create a website that details efforts to provide and expand crop insurance for specialty crop producers; and
•    submit results of specialty crop research and development as well as expansion to the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation’s Board of Directors each year.

RMA has accomplished each of these requirements. Each RMA Regional Office has a Specialty Crop Liaison to assist local specialty crop producers with their risk management needs. If you have questions about specialty crop coverage, you can contact your local Specialty Crop Liaison. You’ll find a list of liaisons and their contact information on the specialty crop page along with information on expansions of specialty crop programs and upcoming outreach events where specialty crop insurance coverage will be discussed.

What Federal crop insurance coverage is available for specialty crops?  

You can purchase individual crop insurance plans for several specialty crops, including coverage for yield and revenue losses due to natural causes such as drought, excessive moisture, hail, wind, frost, insects, and disease. Visit the RMA specialty crops page for a list of crops eligible for individual crop insurance.

You can also sign up for the Whole Farm Revenue Protection insurance program, which is available in every state and county. Unlike individual crop insurance, this program covers all crops on the farm under one insurance policy.

Tell me more about the Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program and who is eligible?

WFRP protects against revenue losses due to unavoidable natural causes. It’s designed for farms that grow a wide range of commodities, including specialty or organic crops and livestock that sell to direct, local, or regional markets, including farm-identity preserved markets

The revenue amount insured is based on your farm plan for the policy year. The farm plan shows your expected revenue and yields for each commodity you intend to raise and the historical revenue produced in the previous five years. This is shown on your Schedule F farm tax records.  

If you choose WFRP coverage, you’ll receive a premium rate discount, since farms with two or more commodities means a lower risk of revenue loss due to the farm’s diversification.

Check out the WFRP fact sheet for more information on eligibility requirements.

What improvements were recently made to the WFRP program?

Several changes were made beginning with the 2021 crop year to WFRP to decrease paperwork and recordkeeping burdens for direct marketers. You can now report two or more direct-marketed commodities as a combined single commodity code. This means you don’t have to provide revenue records by commodity, which can be a burden for highly diversified producers. Also, the combined direct-marketed commodities will count as two commodities in calculating the diversification premium discount. Revenue history will be based on reported revenue from the combined direct-marketed commodities and total acres planted to those commodities.

What if my specialty crop is uninsurable in my county?

In that case, you can request insurance for a specialty crop that is not insurable in your county, but is insurable in other counties, by submitting a Request for Actuarial Change through a crop insurance agent. RMA Regional Offices are authorized to review and approve these requests on behalf of the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation.

Where can a producer find more information?

More information about specialty crops insurance coverage can be found on the RMA specialty crops page or by contacting your local RMA Specialty Crop Liaison or a crop insurance agent.   

USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only, and field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. While our program delivery staff will continue to come into the office, they will be working with producers by phone and using online tools whenever possible. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with the FSA, NRCS, or any other Service Center agency are required to call their Service Center to schedule a phone appointment. More information can be found at farmers.gov/coronavirus.


Nancy McNiff is a Strategic Communication Coordinator with USDA. Nancy can be reached at nancy.mcniff@usda.gov.