I SELL CROP INSURANCE
Jul 16, 2001 - Stuart Surles thinks every farmer needs loss protection and no policy is too small to write as long as it provides adequate coverage.
This attitude and a lot of hard work earned Surles the National Crop Insurance Services Outstanding Service Award for 2001. The annual award goes to the crop insurance agent voted to demonstrate most a commitment and successful outreach to small and limited resource farmers.
"Selling crop insurance is a full-time job," said Surles, president of full-service Stuart Surles Insurance in Angier, NC. His strongly held belief about the value of insurance applies to all farmers, regardless of their acreage, "I don't look at the size of a policy. I'm here to provide the farmer with service."
Surles grew up on a farm near Angier and financed his college expenses with 5 acres of tobacco. He loaned farmers money, first in commercial banks and for 10 years with farm credit associations. "When crop insurance sales first went commercial, I wrote policies when I was loaning farmers money, but I never thought that the farmer was getting the best service on crop insurance."
His passion for sales led Surles to start his own insurance agency in 1987, selling insurance for a number of reinsurance companies. His business philosophy has always been expansional. He hopes to add more companies to broaden the types of coverage that he offers in the Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland.
"Cotton, soybeans, and corn are the big commodities we write for now, and these farms have the most acreage--usually 2,000 to 4,000 acres. But North Carolina's tobacco farmers have had drastic cuts in quotas, thereby reducing their acreage. However, tobacco still stands strong and has paid many debts," Surles said. He also writes policies to cover local specialty crops like strawberries, peaches, and bell peppers, "If a crop can be insured, I provide the coverage."
While many agents would view clientele spread over the mid-Atlantic region to be more than a full plate, Surles is undertaking his next expansion. He's studying the pilot Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) insurance product and is getting certified to sell it in Pennsylvania and plans to eventually sell in all the New England states where AGR is available.
Surles believes firmly in the role that the profit motive plays in sales of crop insurance to farmers, "I think privatizing the sales of crop insurance has greatly increased coverage among U.S. farmers. I'm available at 5:00 in the morning and can go to a farmer's house at 9:00 at night... and stay until we are both satisfied with the coverage being provided."
The new crop insurance premium subsidies have been a big selling point for Surles. "People think nothing of insuring a $5,000 car, so why should a farmer risk $400,000--putting in a crop that could be wiped out in one storm--when affordable insurance is readily available?"
He also credits the subsidies with more of his clients upgrading their coverage. "I do very little Catastrophic (CAT) business, but I will write one before I lose business. Most of the coverage I sell is 65-75 percent. Some tobacco producers buy the 85 percent coverage for their high-value crop."
There have been big changes in the farming community over the past decade. "The farms are getting bigger and the owners more business-oriented. Today's farmers are more aware of the steps they can take to protect their investments. Most of them are on-line," but Surles isn't too worried about future changes, "I will take one day at a time and provide the best quality service for the farmer. After all, farmers are the backbone of our nation, where our food comes from."