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Oregon State's PRISM Weather Monitoring System Adopted by RMA

Oregon State's PRISM weather system gets $1 million to help RMA insurance.

November 23, 2010

3 Min Read

When Risk Management Agency launches its new weather monitoring program in the spring, it will be Oregon State University research going national.

PRISM – Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes Model – is the brainchild of OSU Geoscientist Chris Daly, who christened the weather/climate monitoring system 20 years ago. Since then it has caught the eye of national and international agencies.

Now, USDA's Risk Management Agency is funding a national use of PRISM with a $1 million contract for OSU to keep an eye on weather throughout the U.S. linked to RMA's insurance program.  The monitoring system will chart specific weather and climate on a daily basis.

Under the new contract, OSU will move from a monthly map time-table to producing 30 times that data, says Daly. "We'll be able to tell what weather occurs on a given farm for any specific period," he explains.

RMA's use of PRISM will affect on the underwriting side as well as  compliance, he explains. "Policy writers set premiums by knowing what conditions specifically take place on a farm" he says. "Now they will have a better idea what those conditions are."

Crop insurance is a major U.S. business, with more than $79 billion in contracts outstanding on more than a million policies today.

Using PRISM, systems may be developed to help adjust farmers' crop losses and improve RMA's ability to write sound crop insurance programs, resulting in more accurate and reliable loss adjustments, and provide better policy service, says Kirk Bryant, agency strategic data acquisition and analysis deputy director.

"In the long run, we hope for this collaboration with OSU to grow in future years and offer even more services to farmers," he says. "We want a strong educational component that will help farmers better understand their local climate, the optimal time to plant crops, what might grow best based on the climate, how things change based on global warning,, and provide other support systems."

Taxpayers may save money as well as PRISM provides data that will better protect against abuse of the insurance program, he adds.

PRISM is focused on providing substantive weather event and producer claim quicker than ever, says Daly, generating "far more" precise data than RMA has used in the past.

Able to determine risk levels more accurately, crop insurance underwriters will no longer need to assume that everyone in one county, for example, faces the exact same weather risks. The program may mirror that some land at slightly higher elevations are more subject to frost damage than neighboring fields down the road.

The goal is to bring new equity to setting insurance rates for specific farms, some which may find their costs lower than in the past as a result.

Many cannot appreciate how much weather and climate can vary in short distances, says Daly, who explains that local terrain differences can mean entirely different microclimates in one field than the one next door.

PRISM, as its name implies, takes topographic variations into account and determines their impact on the local weather and climate. It is considered to be a user-friendly system enabling computers to easily take a few clicks to access the climate information important to each grower.

That's due much to Cherri Pancake, who designs websites that simplify delivery of large quantities of information to novice computer users.  Pancake leads OSU's Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering.

For more on this story, see the January issue of Western Farmer-Stockman.

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