FORT MYERS – A tomato farm has lost its bid for crop loss insurance after a federal judge upheld the decision made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency to reject the farm’s claim.

In a March 6 ruling, U.S. District Judge John E. Steele granted the USDA’s cross-motion to uphold its final agency determination. The case concerned whether the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) properly rejected a claim by JPM-RDP Farms LLC for the loss of its 2014-15 crops. According to the court order, JPM-RDP Farms filed three claims seeking compensation for losses of its fresh market tomato crops in Hendry County.

The farm argued its losses were covered under its crop insurance policy because “no effective control measure existed for the disease and insect infestation of the crops at issue." According to crop-scouting reports beginning in December 2014, scouts noticed “the presence of Late Blight and Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (‘Yellow Leaf’) spreading to JPM’s tomatoes.” The RMA ruled crop losses weren’t covered because the tomato crop was “damaged by disease, an uninsured cause of loss.”

The agency also found that JPM didn’t follow the recommended guidelines to control the disease. The JPM appealed the decision in August 2015. In August 2016, a USDA National Appeals Division (NAD) administrative judge reversed the denial. But the director of NAD reversed that ruling in February 2017 and reinstated RMA’s decision to deny the claims.

The director found “it undisputed that late blight and Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus were not new diseases and were well understood diseases that can be controlled with available chemicals.”

JPM then sought judicial review of the final agency decision, saying it was unlawful because the director’s conclusions were “arbitrary and capricious.”

In its decision, the court considered the language in Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) regulations and determined RMA’s decision denying recovery wasn’t “arbitrary and capricious.”

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