TRAVERSE CITY — Both pending versions of the 2013 Farm Bill would make crop insurance available to cherry farmers, northern Michigan's federal legislators said.
The Senate version of the farm bill emerged from the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture on Tuesday.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, who chairs the committee, said the legislation would offer crop insurance to cherry growers and also up to $100,000 in disaster assistance for cherry farmers who were harmed by last year’s March heat and subsequent frosts that ravaged 90 percent of the region's cherry crop.
“(It has) some increased disaster assistance for them,” Stabenow said. “That’s really important. We are directing the USDA to expand crop insurance. They are already beginning to do that. They will be expanding crop insurance for cherry growers.”
The U.S. House of Representatives also is working on its own version of the farm bill. Republican Rep. Dan Benishek, whose district includes the Traverse City area, said he succeeded in getting crop insurance for cherry farmers inserted into the bill and that his fellow legislators support the proposal.
"The tart cherry business, it's pretty important stuff," Benishek said. "We've already got (crop insurance) in the base language of the bill."
Cherry farmers said 2012 was a year of historic losses. Problems were compounded by the inability of many growers to obtain crop insurance. Sweet cherry growers in only a handful of counties could access crop insurance through a pilot program, while tart cherry farmers have no crop insurance coverage options at all.
Both versions of the proposed legislation received praise Wednesday from Cedar-area cherry farmer Ben LaCross. LaCross, who represents the Michigan Farm Bureau in the region, said “it’s nice to see an increased opportunity for specialty crops like cherries to have access to crop insurance.”