As for outreach to returning veterans keen to farm, Murphy said the effort will build on several years’ work.  USDA has had “an initiative (aimed) at vets returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. A very high percentage of vets today are actually from rural America. Many want to go back to rural America and get back into farming. We’re doing a lot of work with (veterans).”

Asked about the sorts of crop insurance changes the next farm bill might bring, Murphy said “there is a lot of discussion. President (Obama) has put forward some ideas in his deficit package on ways to save some additional funding in crop insurance while still maintaining a viable program. His idea … is to reduce some of the administrative and operating funding provided to companies. Also, reducing the potential underwriting gains of the companies. Then, there (would be) a slight shaving of the producer subsidy. Add all those up and it’s about $8.3 billion in savings over about 10 years.”

Many proposals “are coming from different (legislators). We’ve seen some of them and provided reviews. (Other proposals) we have not seen.

“Everyone agrees we have to get the cost of government a little more under control,” said Murphy. “Crop insurance will continue to be one of the mainstays for the farm safety net. The farm organizations have definitely said that as well as a few (legislators). How it all ends up with the farm bill, at this point (is unknown).”

What about crop loss numbers for 2011?

While payments are already being made, said Murphy, “there are quite a few in the pipeline as producers get their records back from elevators and gins before completing claims.

“We had about an $11.5 billion premium. That’s a record year for crop insurance, mostly driven by high commodity prices. Whether we exceed that is a question. I wouldn’t be surprised if we exceed that – it’s still a bit early to tell.

“We know that cotton, wheat, corn and soybeans make up about 75 percent of the program. Everyone knows cotton and wheat definitely had some struggles this year with the (drought) in Texas, Oklahoma and into Kansas. So did corn and soybeans.”

In discussion with insurance companies, Murphy is “picking up mixed comments … regarding what they’re seeing. Lately, I’ve been hearing (the situation) is better than they originally thought (it would be).”