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When Kathy Fowler started her Fowler Agency crop insurance business in 1988, she set up shop with little more than cardboard box files, 1-1/2 years experience as an adjustor, and, most importantly, a good name.

Aug 9, 2001 - Since the agency’s beginning, Fowler’s business and reputation have expanded to 25 counties and have paralleled the expansion of the Federal crop insurance program. Her agency now services clientele in 25 counties in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma.

Since her startup in the crop insurance sales business, Fowler credits three changes in the Federal crop insurance program that have led to big sales increases in her region. "The allowance of optional units in cotton fields in the early 1990s, actual production history changes in 1993/94, and premium subsidies beginning in 1999 have led to more Texas and Oklahoma farmers making the decision to first buy and then upgrade their crop insurance."

Raised in western Oklahoma in a farm family that grew wheat, cotton, and cattle, Fowler is no stranger to farm chores and the effect that bad crop or low price years can have on farm and family financial health. Now, Fowler, and her husband, Jimmy Fowler, who is president of the Donley County State Bank in Clarendon, Texas, also farm 1,200 acres of cotton.

Why perform the extra work and endure the hassle of farming? "Clearly, our family backgrounds are rooted in farming, and I think we can do a better job relating to our customers when we know where they’re coming from," Fowler said. "When Mother Nature cooperates and prices are reasonable, profits can be achieved."

And it’s that empathy with producers that also leads Fowler to push proactive crop insurance education with an integrity and self-sufficiency agenda for her clients. "I’ve always recommended that my producers use established good farming practices and to document their cultural practices."

A continuous part of the educational process includes providing the insured with updated materials concerning changes, as information becomes available. This is achieved through producer meetings and information posted on the Fowler Agency’s web site.

The recent premium subsidies have provided very real results in crop insurance sales. "Before the introduction of the first 1999 subsidy, most of my producers bought actual production history products (APH) at 65 percent. With the first subsidy, my book of business generally moved to 70 percent," Fowler said. "With the permanent subsidies in place, I have virtually zero Catastrophic (CAT) policies, with 70-percent sales making up most of our book of business."

"Now 99 percent of our wheat coverage is with Crop Revenue Coverage (CRC), because CRC offers price as well as yield protection. This year, the CRC wheat price offers a big advantage over APH coverage," Fowler adds.

The price coverage isn’t always cost-effective for all products. "We evaluate prices each year and advise our clients on their best options for coverage," said Fowler. "The guarantee offered by the crop insurance products is still the most important coverage aspect for farmers."

"I do know it’s my job to set precedent by presenting my best information and advice and exhibiting an upbeat attitude." Fowler credits her reinsurance company, RCIS, with emphasizing the importance of a positive image.

The online computer in the Fowler Agency waiting room gives a clue to the excitement Fowler exhibits when the topic of online services come up. She sees the resources providing new tools for education and information for her clients: "The Internet has been an amazing development for us. I answer many email inquiries about crop insurance," Fowler said. "The RCIS site has been a terrific resource. For instance, electronic signatures are now being used in lieu of paper. We hope to have the majority of our clients using online services within 2 to 5 years."

The handbook that the Fowler agency has prepared for each serviced county also has a wealth of resources to help a producer improve risk management knowledge, as does the agency’s website.

But Fowler believes there’s no substitute for the hands-on approach provided by her associates. "No computer program can provide the personal touch and as yet consider all the variables that can determine an exact premium cost for an acre."