BISMARCK – Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says more frequent and detailed weather reporting is needed to properly implement a new crop insurance program in central and western North Dakota.
"The Pasture, Rangeland and Forage Insurance Pilot Program, now available to farmers and ranchers in central and western North Dakota, is based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Rainfall Index,” Goehring said. “That is a significant problem because there are not enough reporting stations in the central and western parts of the state to provide adequate data for an accurate assessment of moisture conditions in the area.”
Goehring said the problem is magnified by the distance between reporting stations and by the fact that many of the reporting stations only submit reports when a precipitation event occurs.
"The Rainfall Index will be skewed unless all reporting stations submit daily reports, even on days when no precipitation occurs,” he said. “As a result, the insurance claims of some producers will be denied because the index erroneously shows that their operations have had adequate moisture.”
Goehring met recently with National Weather Service officials in Bismarck, who said only about 15 of North Dakota’s 130 weather observers submit daily reports.
“I appreciate the efforts of the weather service to encourage more frequent and complete reports from their observers,” Goehring said. “These observers provide an invaluable service, many of them on a volunteer basis.”
Goehring said the Risk Management Agency (RMA), the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that oversees federal crop insurance, should give producers the option of basing their policy on either the Vegetation Index from the U.S. Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science data center or on the Rainfall Index.
"RMA already uses the Vegetation Index in several other states, including South Dakota,” Goehring said. “The Vegetation Index uses constantly reported satellite data to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the vegetative growth that results from moisture conditions in a given area.”
Goehring said he plans to meet with the state’s Atmospheric Resource Board and the Weather Service to gather additional information on observation/reporting methods in the state.