HEADLINES & MEDIA
By Tom Zacharias, National Crop Insurance Services
Admittedly, opponents of farm policy attract more headlines than the men and women who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs.
Then again, it is far easier to get attention with sensationalist claims and unsubstantiated data.
Take the drought of 2012 for example. Opponents of crop insurance made news by claiming that taxpayers would be responsible for as much as $40 billion. Critics called crop insurance a farmer bailout and said things like farmers were “laughing all the way to the bank” and were “praying for drought, not praying for rain.”
Never were these anti-agriculture activists and for-hire university economists criticized for their bombastic tone or baseless predictions that turned out to be incredibly inaccurate.
Sure, farmers tried to set the record straight, but supporting a farm policy that helped protect taxpayer dollars is not as glamorous as inflated estimates and inflammatory rhetoric.
Now, crop insurance opponents are at it again as Congress prepares to negotiate a farm bill. Farmers have been accused of “taking bribes.” Farmers even have been compared to cheap drunks at an open bar and told to pay their fair share.
Use of such language and misleading information…
By Patrick Solon, Streator, Illinois
The historic 2012 drought that wilted the corn and soybean fields of Illinois and other Midwest states was one of the costliest events to hit rural America in decades.
As the nightly news reported, losses on farms in large swaths of the Midwest were staggering, with some farmers having such low yields that harvesting was a waste of time.
I feel I live in an oasis. The drought and heat wave that crippled farmers in neighboring counties and nearby states somehow spared my farm and a few others here in north central Illinois. I don’t know if it’s where the farm is located, the soil it sits on or just the luck of the draw in getting a few rain showers here and there, but somehow, I was spared.
This makes me feel lucky, on one hand, since I did not face the dread of losing my crops, but guilty on the other hand because so many other farmers did.
In past years, a disaster on this level would have triggered a massive, ad hoc disaster…
By Andrew Bowman, Oneida, Illinois
Hearings have started in Washington on the next farm bill. I count myself as one of the many farmers who will stand together and urge Congress to “do no harm” to crop insurance, which has become the front line risk management tool for American farmers.
Crop insurance is a public-private partnership whereby farmers like myself put “skin in the game” by purchasing policies to manage the many risks we face in this line of work. It does not guarantee profits, nor does it ensure farmers cannot fail. It protects farmers against circumstances beyond their control but does not prevent poorly managed farms from going under. Essentially, it allows market forces to work. Farmers gladly purchase crop insurance, and last year spent $4.1 billion out of their own pockets to do so.
How well is crop insurance working? Last year, most of the Midwest sizzled under a heat wave and drought that cut harvests in half for some farmers and virtually destroyed entire…
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry today voted to approve the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, a bipartisan Farm Bill authored by Committee Chairwoman Senator Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Senator Pat Roberts.
The bill reforms food and agricultural policy by eliminating direct payments and emphasizing the need to strengthen risk management tools for farmers, saving billions of dollars. Overall, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will reduce the deficit by $23 billion dollars by eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse. These reforms allow for the strengthening of key initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets and create American jobs. The measure will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
“The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will save taxpayers billions of dollars while promising a safe and healthy national food supply. By eliminating duplication, and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs. This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart, cost-effective policies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous economy. I am proud that once again the Agriculture Committee was able to work together in a bipartisan way to complete major reforms that save money and grow our economy.”
Stabenow continued, “We now look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to ensure we enact a Farm Bill this year before the current one expires. Agriculture supports 16 million jobs in our country, and it is absolutely critical to provide farmers the certainty they need to plan and grow by passing a Farm Bill this year.”
By Bill Bridgeforth
It is hard to talk about the state of Alabama without mentioning agriculture. Alabama boasts more than 48,000 farms, covering roughly 28 percent of the state.
But being a farmer in the Deep South – given our weather patterns – is like owning an unpredictable dog. One day it loves you, the next day, it bites you.
In farming, when that dog decides to bite you, it comes in the form of powerful thunderstorms, hurricanes or droughts. That’s why for every year of the last thirty-five years that I’ve farmed, I purchase crop insurance. In fact, I can’t even conceive of farming without crop insurance.
In the past, when large-scale natural disasters hit farmers, Congress was immediately pressured to pass expensive, ad hoc disaster bills that were completely paid for by the public. Such disaster bills, while appreciated by farmers, took up to a year or more to arrive. But farmers need money in hand quickly after disaster strikes, because they must start planning, and purchasing inputs, for the next season.
That’s the beauty of crop insurance. First of all, taxpayers aren’t stuck footing the whole bill if and when disaster strikes. Crop insurance is purchased by each individual farmer, tailored specifically to the crops grown, the land the farm sits on and the farmer’s tolerance for risk.
Crop insurance isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination. The policies I purchase cost several hundred thousand dollars a year. But I consider that just a cost of production, because if disaster strikes, I can expect my crop insurance indemnity in about a month or less, not the years it takes for federal help to arrive. Those months saved can mean the difference between success and failure in farming.
Farmers across the country spent $4.1 billion purchasing crop insurance policies in 2012. The policies purchased insured 271 million acres, or roughly 86 percent of all planted cropland in the U.S.
But farmers aren’t the only group that has come to love crop insurance. Bankers love it too. That’s because when farmers approach bankers for production loans, bankers regard a crop insurance policy as a form of collateral. Additionally, bankers know that a farmer who has paid his own money for a crop insurance policy is a farmer who has risk management in mind.
Of course like any other public policy, crop insurance has its enemies. Some of those groups used last year’s historic drought to not only criticize the availability of crop insurance, but to also attack the character of farmers like me, who purchase it. One group said that farmers were “praying for drought, not rain,” implying that farmers would get rich from their crop insurance policies.
I was one of those farmers who suffered from the drought last year and let me set the record straight: We do everything we can to have the highest production possible every year. We select a good variety of seed, purchase the best fertilizer and do everything we can to protect the crop. If there ever were any farmers trying to live off of crop insurance, they’re long gone. The cost of production is just too high.
But if America is going to continue to enjoy its plentiful and affordable food supply, the country must also focus on helping the next generation of farmers to gain their footing and learn the trade. To that end, I am a founding member and Chairman of the National Black Growers Council, which serves as a network for black men and women who are involved in agriculture. Our mission is to improve the viability and profitability of the black row crop farmers, and to develop black talent for the next generation of farmers.
To that next generation of farmers who is seeking my advice, one of the first things I’d tell them is to make sure crop insurance is a line item in your annual budget. Because all of the best farming practices in the world aren’t going to stop Mother Nature from raining on your parade, at least every now and then.
Bill Bridgeforth farms corn, cotton, soybeans and canola and lives in Tanner, Alabama.
By Bing Von Bergen
There is a lot of buzz in Washington again this year about the prospects of a farm bill. For those of us in agriculture, a five-year farm bill is one of the few things Congress can do to take some of the guesswork out of farming.
That’s because farming is an inherently risky venture, and Mother Nature never seems to run out of tricks to play on America’s farmers. Floods one year, droughts the next, followed by a year or two of great weather peppered with a tornado, a late-spring freeze, and then a crash in commodity prices just as your crop comes into harvest.
How in the world can one businessman plan for all of those possibilities? The simple answer is crop insurance.
Crop insurance is a nationwide program that enables farmers to purchase insurance to partially protect themselves from both weather-related and market-related disasters. I’ve been a wheat farmer for 34 years, and when I started farming, crop insurance was just a shell of what it is now. Back then, it was not widely available, was not purchased by many farmers, and was completely administered by the federal government.
Today’s crop insurance policy is a completely different animal. It’s partially underwritten by the federal government but sold and delivered by private sector insurance companies, ensuring efficient handling of claims and speedy…
Bing Von Bergen of Moccasin is president and acting CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers