Hagel, 63, spent his last day at work on
Under his tenure, farmers in the region went from 60 percent crop insurance coverage to 70 and 75 percent levels. Many today are buying up to 80 to 85 percent coverage, but are covering optional units of individual crops by county.
Hagel says crop insurance has become increasingly important as the prairie pothole region -- a wide band of land from central
If all the protections Hagel has helped implement had been in place 20 years ago, he might still be farming.
He grew up on a small grain and cattle farm south of
After brief stints in accounting and retailing, he returned to farm with his father in 1978. He bought the farm in 1980 and added land in 1982 -- a bad time to expand.
Like thousands of others, Hagel was caught in rising interest rates, plummeting crop prices and drought.
In 1984, Hagel had started working for the
In 1991, he moved to
Hagel went to work for the FCIC in
In 1996, Hagel bumped up to the director's spot at the time when the FCIC was made into an agency -- the RMA -- on a level footing with the FSA and other agencies.
In 2000, the Ag Risk Protection Act raised the subsidies and farmers were able to buy up coverage from 75 to 85 percent for certain crops.
"That really drove up participation in the programs -- all the programs," Hagel says. Significantly, the act gave authority for private entities -- especially commodity organizations -- to submit applications for approval as new programs.
In the 2008 farm bill,
Fraud is always a concern for crop insurance programs, and can give the program a black eye, as perceived by the public and policy-makers.
The RMA is often under pressure because insurance companies promote more generous policies so they can sell and earn more.
"That's where we come in as a regulator," Hagel says. "We try to have a program that's balanced in three ways -- fair to the producer, the delivery system and the taxpayers. It's a delicate balance and we try to keep that balance."
Dishonest players often require more onerous regulation, which means policy manuals are 900 pages long instead of the 200 pages they were when Hagel started with the agency.
"That makes it harder for the honest person because it makes them go through the same knothole" that was needed for the dishonest player.
The agency provides rules and procedures for figuring losses, but adjusters have to make calls in the field. Fraud cases can be pursued based on insurance records, but much of what is decided is based on oral conversations. Hagel says much of the work on fraud is handled through a compliance office in
"We work on the big fish, and unfortunately a lot of the little guys fall through the cracks,"Hagel says.
Looking back on his career, Hagel says a shift toward crop insurance was a political milestone in this region. It was a challenge to overcome southern state politicians who had long preferred the ad hoc disaster programs -- passed when needed, and aimed primarily at problems in the South.
Another big development was the RMA's Livestock Revenue Protection Program, which subsidizes feed and locks in futures options.
"Prices are high now, so they aren't using it so much," Hagel says.
He also is proud of the Personal Transitional Yield program, started as a pilot in 2007. It has since been expanded and is under consideration at the national level. It allows farmers to plug personal yields into all of their units to have coverage reflective of what they can actually grow for a given crop.
Former U.S. Rep.
"We had a lot of grand proposals thrown at us (in
But he says Hagel was important in developing concepts that allowed farmers to be covered by not only the volume of production, but also price protection.
Pomeroy likened congressional actions on crop insurance to "surgery with a meat ax," while government officials such as Hagel need to be a surgeon with a scalpel to make them work.
Pomeroy only half-jokes that he would have liked to have seen the regional office in
"He did a lot of driving to meetings in
A farmer's insight
Pomeroy says Hagel's experience as a producer made him aware of the farmer's financial risk exposure and how important it was for a meaningful insurance policy to cover it. He says Hagel met with commodity groups to look for better coverage opportunities, but he wasn't a pushover.
"Policing against fraud was also a major component of his concerns for building a good crop insurance program," Pomeroy says.
"You have to run the program based on how
Ihry says Hagel was able to relay to officials in his headquarters locations in RMA -- both in
Pomeroy says Hagel's work coincided with academic focus from
"I think Doug's work on issues have related to some of the success we've had in
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