Risk Management on Specialty Crop Farms Highlighted on Tour
About 20 people, including a couple crop insurance agents and RMA regional staff and area farmers, attended KRC’s farm tour at Scot Thelman’s Juniper Hill Farms north of Lawrence, Ks. on September 18. Thelman is a that rare bird—a first generation farmer. His parents bought the farm he operates now when he was 8 years old, and his first experience farming was to follow the guys leasing the farm around. He spent his teen age and college summers running a custom haying business. In 2011 he built his first high tunnel for vegetables using the USDA NRCS high tunnel cost-share program. After graduating from Iowa State University in 2014, he started farming full time, expanding his vegetable operation from year to year.
Today he has some 60 acres of vegetables (both under 12 high tunnels and in the field) plus about 1200 acres hay and alfalfa, corn and soybeans, and does custom hay work for area farmers. He has a farm manager and a couple other fulltime employees but also hires seasonal employees for the vegetable operation. Thelman also built a 4000 square feet packing shed with cold storage, and handles aggregation, distribution and marketing for other specialty crop farmers including several Amish farmers in northwest Missouri.
For Thelman, risk management has meant diversifying. When one thing does poorly, another will take up the slack. For instance, this year’s rains made vegetable production hard, but the hay did great. He uses the Non-insured Crops Disaster Assistance program or NAP, a crop insurance program that provides some protection for specialty crop growers. He has had to submit a couple of claims over his farming career, but finds the dollar values USDA uses for vegetables do not reflect the market value here. Still it was better than a complete loss.
He hopes to use the newer Whole Farm Revenue Insurance in the future. Up to now he feels there has been a lack of information and training available to agents. “We’re in corn and bean country,” he said. “So specialty crops are not understood.”
While most of his marketing is at the whole sale level, this last summer he also sold at the Lawrence Farmers Market. This allowed him to focus on customer relationships, which he said provides invaluable information on quality and consumer preferences.
The farm tour was part of KRC’s Risk Management for Specialty Crop Growers Project funded in part through a partnership with USDA, Risk Management Agency,
under award number RM18MEPP522CO46/ 4500081830.