K-State Helps to Make Crop Insurance Affordable for New Sorghum Growers
Kansas State University researchers are continuing work on sorghum — sometimes called the camel of crops — to solve a challenge that ultimately could mean less pressure on the state's water resources.
Already, much has been done. Kansas and Texas top all other states for U.S. production of grain sorghum, both growing nearly 3 million acres of sorghum in 2013. The crop is grown across Kansas, but is particularly ideal in the western one-third of the state, where limited rain and a diminishing Ogallala Aquifer virtually demands farm crops that can grow with little water.
Recent studies show that compared to corn or soybeans (the other major summer row crops in western Kansas), grain sorghum requires less water to make a decent yield and handles stress better. No other crop makes such efficient use of available water and consistently generates income as a cash crop under such a wide range of soil and weather conditions.
But Kansas farmers are reluctant to dedicate more acres to the crop, in large part because crop insurance for sorghum is less affordable than for other major crops in Kansas.
K-State, others gathering data
In comparison to corn and soybeans, "there have been so few irrigated acres of sorghum grown in Kansas," said Bill Golden, an agricultural economist with K-State Research and Extension. "We are having a difficult time coming up with data to justify changes in the sorghum crop insurance program."
That dilemma particularly affects farmers who are new to growing sorghum. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency (RMA) establishes insurance rates based on yields; insurance for new farmers is guided by transition yields — known as T-Yields — which is an estimated yield of the insured crop if the producer is not able to provide a minimum four years of production history.
"The irrigated T-Yields used by RMA on grain sorghum require a relatively high insurance rate for what some sorghum growers feel is too low a T-Yield," said Susan Stover, manager for High Plains water issues at the Kansas Water Office. "There is a large difference between what the K-State field trials are showing as sorghum yields and the data RMA has seen from producers."
Input from Kansas growers
Golden alone has talked with more than 600 producers at field days, meetings, and other events the past three years. He says the lack of affordable crop insurance is the top reason that more producers aren't growing sorghum.
But there is hope that will soon change. K-State Research and Extension has active projects that will help U.S. producers improve management practices that ultimately improve yields and save water.
"The RMA establishes premium rates based on crop insurance experience," said Rebecca Davis, director of RMA's field office in Topeka. "If experience improves during the time from the last premium rate review, rates would be expected to go down, costing producers less for their coverage."
Stover noted: "The research on sorghum is an area of high value to Kansans. The data strongly suggests that some producers could greatly improve their sorghum yields with improved management, an area that K-State can provide assistance. As production numbers improve on sorghum, RMA will have the basis to change the T-Yields."
Golden, Stover, and Davis have met regularly for nearly three years to figure out how to take advantage of sorghum's unique ability to yield well in low-moisture areas. Golden added that RMA "has bent over backwards" to help overcome the challenge of high insurance rates.