On May 4, 2020, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) issued Managers Bulletin MGR-20-013 and a National Press Release regarding the challenges facing producers during the pandemic, in this case producers with certified organic acreage or acreage in transition to organic who must file written certifications or documentation from a certifying agent by the acreage reporting date. https://www.rma.usda.gov/en/Policy-and-Procedure/Bulletins-and-Memos/2020/MGR-20-013; https://www.rma.usda.gov/en/News-Room/Press/Press-Releases/2020-News/USDA-Allows-Flexibilities-for-Organic-Certification-Amid-Coronavirus-Pandemic. RMA states that stay-at-home orders and concerns about the spread of COVID-19 could make it difficult to get certifications or documentation by the acreage reporting date.
RMA states that, for the 2020 crop year, the approved insurance providers (AIPs) may allow organic producers to report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date. RMA also states that producers must notify their insurance agent within 30 days of receiving notice from their certifying agent that their organic plan or certificate was not approved. Further, RMA states that if the organic plan or certificate is not approved, AIPs may adjust the acreage report and premium. RMA also states that the AIPs must verify an organic plan or certification is in effect during the loss adjustment process.
RMA states that producer notifications may be made by phone, email, text, or other electronic communication method, and the AIPs must document the policyholder’s notification. RMA states that policyholders will be required to either sign digitally at the time of submission or must follow up with properly signed forms no later than July 15, 2020 in accordance with MGR-20-009.
ANALYSIS – The current pandemic is certainly making it challenging on all segments of the population, including producers. Many interactions in the crop insurance program are face-to-face and require documents to be signed and submitted. Stay-at-home orders and concern about the spread of COVID-19 have made this challenging. In MGR-20-013, RMA is giving producers the flexibility to report their acreage as certified organic or transitioning to organic as long as they have requested the certification or documentation from a certifying agent. The flexibility provided does not seem to adversely affect program integrity because producers must report to their agents if their organic plan or certification is not approved.
One concern is that AIPs must verify the organic plan or certification is in effect during the loss adjustment process. It is possible that losses can occur before the certifying agent makes any decision regarding the producer’s organic plan or certificate. It is unclear whether AIPs must wait to pay claims until the certifying agent notifies the producer of whether the organic plan or certificate is approved.
All statements made are opinions of the author and are not intended to provide legal opinions or legal advice.