Farmers question impact of diversion on crop insurance

WEST FARGO – Area farmers have some major concerns about how the Red River diversion project will impact their livelihoods and the crop insurance they rely on.

South of the proposed project, more than 54,700 acres of rural land – most of it farmland – are set to be included in a temporary water storage area.

While the land could still be farmed during a typical year, farmers fear that they could lose income due to lost yields and reduced insurance coverage.

Area farmers and Diversion Authority officials met Tuesday to talk about the diversion’s impacts on agriculture with Doug Hagel, regional director for the Risk Management Agency, which oversees the federal crop insurance program.

Federal crop insurance covers only “unavoidable, naturally occurring events.” Losses resulting from a manmade containment project – such as a diversion or dam – are not covered, Hagel said.

But the land affected by the Red River diversion’s proposed upstream staging area is in a unique situation, since floodwaters there would only be contained temporarily before draining off, Hagel said.

“Staging is more tricky,” he said. “We’ve tried to be as flexible as possible with staging water.”

According to Hagel and Scott Stofferahn, state director for Sen. Kent Conrad:

If a flood occurred and water backed up in the staging area but eventually drained off in time for farmers to plant, the land would be covered under federal crop insurance.

But if a flood occurred, water backed up and farmers couldn’t plant by the required dates, the land would not be covered under the federal program. In addition, a farmer’s crop insurance rate would take a hit because they’d have no insurable yield that year – something of particular concern, area farmers said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Diversion Authority could opt to insure the affected farmland in cases where the Red River diversion project was responsible for farmers’ crop losses, Hagel said.

However, there are a number of factors that would influence how such a program would operate, he said.

Stofferahn said farmers might see crop losses anyway under such conditions wet enough to require the diversion to be used – a scenario that would likely allow them to be covered under the federal program.

“Most likely, you’re going to have a normal cause of loss … because you already had excess precipitation leading up to that” use of the diversion, he said.

Metro Diversion Authority officials sought to emphasize how rare it would be that water would back up on farmland upstream of Fargo-Moorhead, especially during summer time when crops have already been planted.

“Staging is based on a 100-year event,” Fargo Engineer Mark Bittner said. Under the corps’ new definition, Bittner said, “we’ve never seen a 100-year event, so up until a 100-year event, drainage should actually be better.”

“It’s not all bad; there will be some benefits there,” Bittner added.