Helping to ensure farmers’ financial survival Rick Williams, Senior Risk Management Specialist, Risk Management Agency

By Kevin Gaffney
For Wheat Life


Rick Williams, a senior risk management specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), was raised on a wheat and barley farm near Reardan, Wash. And while he didn’t take over the family farm, he put in many hours on tractors and combines over the years, even after launching his career in a different part of agriculture.

“I always wanted to work in the ag industry,” said Williams. “As much as I enjoyed farming, there were other areas of agriculture that were very interesting to me to explore.”

Williams and his sister, Traci’s, parents are Vernon (Shelley) Williams and Buddi Williams. They farmed north of Davenport and are retired. The farm is now being operated by a nephew and a neighbor.

Williams had plenty of chores as a youth, including helping to care for a herd of 20-30 cattle. The cattle offered the opportunity for steer showing and livestock judging in both 4-H and FFA competitions. 

“We had a very good FFA program at Reardan High School, and I was fortunate enough to place third in the Washington State FFA livestock judging contest, which allowed me to compete at the National FFA Convention in Kansas City,” he said. 

After high school, Williams attended Washington State University (WSU) where he earned a degree in ag economics in 1989. During his senior year, he took a paid internship position with Lewiston Grain Growers (now CHS Primeland). He worked in their seed plant, supervising seed field rogueing crews and working with state seed certification fieldmen.

“I’d get up about 4 a.m. and have the rogueing crews out there by 6:30 a.m. to avoid the heat of the day,” explained Williams. “We’d come back in by about 2 p.m., and I’d work the rest of my day in the office. I got to know many of the grain farmers in the Lewiston area. They were great to work with.”

About a month before graduation, he found out Jacklin Seed was looking for an intern. He applied for the position and was instead offered a full-time job. Williams worked as operations manager for their research department with Jacklin’s three full-time plant breeders. Williams made sure the breeding nurseries were operated properly, and he oversaw the process of getting the varieties through the greenhouses, into the field trials, and finally on to production for eventual sale to golf courses and other clients.

“I didn’t know anything about turf seed when I joined Jacklin, but they quickly trained me up to speed. I enjoyed working with our growers, most of whom were in the Columbia Basin region. With modern grass varieties, they can plant and harvest turfgrass as an annual crop and can avoid the field burning issue. They plant in August and after harvest the following July, they rotate to another irrigated crop.”

After 12 years with Jacklin Seed, Williams began to think about a career change. How did he end up at the RMA?

“It was just luck, really,” insists Williams. “I applied for an opening with the Spokane Conservation District (SCD) and received an interview with the SCD board. A few days later, they called and said they had bad news and good news. I did not get the SCD post. However, one of the volunteer members on the board told me there was an opening with the RMA office in Spokane where he worked. I was told I had two days to apply before the position applications were closed. I got that application in immediately and was hired a month later. I’ve been with them for almost 23 years now.”

Though Williams had no experience in risk management, he excelled due to an excellent training program. 

“They quickly got me into seminars and out to field days. They provided very good tutelage at the local level and with training at the RMA headquarters in Kansas City,” he said.

Williams works from home, as do most of the 12 Spokane RMA employees. Following COVID-19, most of RMA’s employees now work remotely. The Spokane office services growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska.

Federal crop insurance was created in the 1930s to serve American agricultural producers through effective, market-based risk management tools. Agency revisions formed the RMA in 1996 to better serve agricultural needs. The intent is to strengthen the economic stability of the producers and rural communities. RMA manages the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to provide innovative crop insurance products for American farmers. The programs are sold and serviced by private sector insurance companies that work directly with producers and landlords.

“The private-public cooperative system works very well, I believe,” said Williams. “The insurance companies are set up to provide the insurance, to do all the data work, and support the system. The RMA oversees the programs that the private companies service and sell. Essentially, we both do what we are best at doing. I can’t say enough good things about the crop insurance companies we work with.

“I enjoy working with the policies and procedures of the system to provide what our growers want and need. We welcome the opportunities to present informational seminars and programs for grower meetings, ag organization board meetings, and conventions. We receive many inquiries from growers, landlords, insurance companies, and agents. I enjoy helping them by providing the correct answers to their questions and explaining the intricacies of the program.”

The RMA system is set up on a county-by-county basis. Rates and yields are set separately for every county. A T-Yield (county average yield) is established for each county. This is used for growers who don’t have a minimum of four years of yield history in a particular county. Growers can use the county T-Yield until they have enough production history on their farm to establish their own yield averages. 

Once growers have established yield averages, they can insure that yield, depending on the crop, up to the 85% coverage level.

“In earlier years, there were only policies available for a few grain crops, mostly to protect growers against yield losses,” explained Williams. “Now, the number of crops eligible for coverage is well over 100 nationwide. There is also a Whole Farm Revenue Program, which can also provide protection from commodity price declines and revenue losses. There are many options available to growers to help protect financial stability in the ag industry.”

Williams lives with his wife, Sally, whom he met while both were working at Jacklin Seed. They have been married for 28 years and have three grown daughters. 

Williams is not a farmer, but he seems to have learned to be proficient at many skills, like most farmers do. His special skill is carpentry, and he learned to enjoy it in an unusual way. When his family was growing and they needed a larger home, the prices were high at that time. Williams didn’t want to pay that much for a new home.

“With my wife’s encouragement, we built our own home working as our own contractor with several subcontractors doing their part,” said Williams. “We saved about half of the cost of similar prebuilt homes and were able to customize it for our specific needs.”

The Spokane RMA office is located at 11707 E. Sprague Avenue. Online, go to to access information. Rick Williams can be reached at (509) 228-6320.