BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The federal government says regulations prevent it from even considering a request by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to extend a corn planting deadline to ease farmers' insurance concerns in North Dakota.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency said in a statement Wednesday that it is prohibited from changing the May 25 deadline set for most counties in the state. Crop insurance policies are agreements struck between approved providers and farmers, and any changes in those contracts would have to have been made by Nov. 30 last year.
Corn farmers have been struggling to get their crop seeded because of the wet spring. Crop insurance coverage will be reduced for farmers who plant corn after Sunday in 49 of North Dakota's 53 counties, because the crops will be deemed more susceptible to summer heat or fall frost.
The Democratic senator asked the agency for an extension Monday. Heitkamp's spokeswoman, Abigail McDonough, said Thursday that she would continue to push for insurance program improvements.
"The senator believes that just because it's an uphill battle for this year, that doesn't mean she shouldn't try to make needed improvements to support growers and help raise awareness to the agency about the planting challenges our growers face," McDonough said.
Only 17 percent of North Dakota's corn crop was planted by Sunday, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, which updates the numbers weekly. At this time last year, 55 percent of the crop was in the ground.
McDonough said Heitkamp consulted with corn farmers before making her plea for federal help. But it was met with a lukewarm response by the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, which said it did not ask the senator to make the request. Executive Director Tom Lilja said extending the deadline — and a secondary request by Heitkamp that the government consider adjusting final planting dates for early season crops before the 2015 crop year — could result in higher policy rates for producers.
"I think the industry would be reluctant" to support later deadlines for the 2015 crop year, Lilja said earlier this week.
RMA did not comment on Heitkamp's secondary request.
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