HEADLINES & MEDIA
I started farming and ranching with my father and grandfather in southwest Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle 40 years ago, and I am the fourth generation to farm cotton, peanuts, wheat, corn, milo and cattle on our family’s land.
I was 17 when I started farming on my own, and although I have four decades of experience under my belt, the many issues we face today on the family farm — worked by me, my son, my brother-in-law and my son-in-law — are no less challenging than they were when I began. In most careers, things get easier as you move along. In farming, since the weather and prices are so unpredictable, it really never gets easier.
With few risk management tools available in the early days, it could take years to recover from a hailstorm, an early freeze or any of the many other natural perils that could be thrown at you. When I first learned of crop insurance, I didn’t purchase it because premiums were unaffordable and margins were too slim to afford it. Thankfully, Congress made crop insurance more available and affordable — by partially discounting the premium — and now I wouldn’t farm without it.
Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, crop insurance is the best tool farmers have to manage risks and revenue. It’s not cheap, but it is something that we budget for annually and can’t imagine not having.
The key to crop insurance’s success has been its affordability, its availability and its viability. Last year, farmers spent nearly $4 billion on crop insurance policies that protected 90 percent of planted cropland in the United States. I’d bet that many of the farmers in our area wouldn’t be surviving the current drought — which started in 2011 — if it wasn’t for crop insurance.
Despite the fact that agriculture’s safety net programs took a huge cut in the last farm bill, some in Congress seem to think we need to give more. I wonder if some of those people have any idea where their food and clothes come from or what it takes to get it from the farm to their plate or closet.
It seems almost daily that someone in Congress is proposing a bill to cut the premium support on crop insurance. It would not serve anyone to cut these risk management tools to farmers, as they allow farmers to concentrate on producing higher-yielding, better-quality crops that reduce the costs to the consumer.
Crop insurance is not a gift but insurance, just like homeowner’s insurance, that farmers buy. And like homeowner’s insurance, we don’t collect a dime without a verifiable loss and paying a deductible. Without crop insurance, many farmers couldn’t get financed and it would be almost impossible for a beginning farmer to get started.
Crop insurance is critical in meeting these challenges, and guarantees the American consumer a safe, affordable supply of quality food and fiber that is unsurpassed anywhere in the world.
Kelly Horton lives in Hollis.
I always knew I was going to be a farmer. I grew up learning from my grandfather who turned me loose and gave me a lot of responsibility on his farm from a young age. I was driving machinery by the time I was 10 years old and running my own harvest crew by the time I was 14.
When I was in school, I entertained being a veterinarian and farming on the side mainly because people told me it was a tough life and I wouldn’t be able to make a living.
That kind of talk only made me more determined, so when I came home from college I started farming full time despite the fact that I barely had a dollar to my name and farming is a capital-intensive business.
I remember the first time I went to borrow money, my banker asked me right off if I had crop insurance and how much was the coverage. I was prepared to answer those questions as crop insurance was then and remains today my primary risk management tool. I wouldn’t think of trying to grow a crop without it.
It’s essential — especially for young farmers, like I was at the time, just starting an operation.
It enables farmers to get financing and also enables them to survive a major catastrophic weather event.
Young farmers are particularly vulnerable to such risks because they are more leveraged than more established farmers. They can’t afford a major hit in their finances or a year without any income.
Just look at my state of Texas where we have suffered a historic drought for the last five years. 2012 and 2013 were particularly bad.
Without crop insurance, this sustained drought would have wiped out an entire generation of farmers. They would not have had the means to make it to another year without something to at least help cover part of the losses.
That’s why it is critical that crop insurance remain affordable and widely available. Thankfully the 2014 Farm Bill strengthened crop insurance and added provisions to help beginning farmers. But, the critics of farm policy, including some lawmakers in Congress, never seem to rest and are already clamoring once again for cuts.
They would be wise to take note of an alarming trend that puts the average age of a U.S. farmer at 58. Moreover, in 2012, the number of beginning farmers – those operating fewer than 10 years – was down 20 percent from 2007.
My desire to farm at such a young age is the exception, not the rule. Many young people can’t stomach the risk that is involved and have no desire to try.
Cuts to the farm safety net only make an inherently risky business, riskier. The expense of raising crops, the perils of weather-related disasters, and the low returns on investment, are enough to make anyone run in the other, more secure direction.
Now is not the time to create barriers at the starting point of farming and ranching. Now is the time to give certainty to young people with farm policy they can afford and count on.
Matt Huie farms cotton, corn, sorghum, and livestock in Southeast Texas near Corpus Christi.
Some stereotypes about U.S. farm policy just won’t die.
For example, the belief that farmers get paid for not growing; or that benefits just go to big agribusinesses; or that farm spending is out of control.
Such criticisms make splashy headlines but are no longer relevant thanks to the significant evolution of farm policy over the past 20 years. Over that time, government control of agriculture has given way to a system where farmers take more responsibility, make decisions based on market forces, and are asked to help fund their own safety net.
The most significant reforms occurred in the 2014 farm bill, which is projected to reduce farm spending by billions over the next decade.
The farm bill repealed direct payments – checks that some farmers received every year no matter the market conditions or how crops fared. In their place are crop insurance policies made available to all growers regardless of size, geographic location or cropping decision.
With crop insurance, most farmers get bills in the mail instead of government checks, and because producers are now paying more of the farm policy tab, spending has trended downward over the years (to less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget).Here’s how it plays out on my sugar beet, soybeans and wheat farm.
Every year, I analyze input costs, market prices and yield trends. Then I purchase crop insurance tailored to the unique risks on my farm.
Most years, my crops succeed and no insurance check is collected, meaning insurance companies and the government keep my premiums to offset other policy costs.
In disaster years when we suffer from drought, frost, flood, hail or a host of other calamities, insurance only kicks in after I’ve shouldered a sizable deductible, meaning I share the cost of aid.
Collectively, farmers spend about $4 billion out of their own pockets every year to buy insurance. They do this because the government ensures policies are affordable and widely available and because an efficient infrastructure maintained by the private sector speeds assistance to us much faster than old government disaster programs, which were 100 percent taxpayer-funded.
Crop insurance is just part my story. Our farmer-owned cooperative also takes out government-backed operating loans on our sugar crop. These loans help cash flow the operation as the sugar is sold over the course of the year, and, like any other business loan, it is repaid with interest.
As a result, sugar policy typically operates at no taxpayer expense and is projected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cost $0 over the next decade.
Admittedly, agriculture’s transition to lower costs isn’t fast enough for some detractors. But, as a farm leader involved in the 2014 farm bill debate, I can attest that tremendous headway has been made, and I know that it is vital to remove remaining stumbling blocks to further reform.
For example, unnecessary environmental regulations on agriculture breed bureaucratic inefficiencies, drive up costs of production and make it difficult to compete.
And, while U.S. farm supports are getting smaller, foreign subsidies are rapidly increasing abroad and distorting global markets.
In the case of sugar, foreign subsidies have created the most volatile commodity market in the world, where global prices currently cover just half the cost of producing the crop. In other words, exporters would lose 50 cents for every $1 worth of sugar sold if it weren’t for subsidies propping them up.
Putting an end to the domestic and foreign policies that stifle U.S. agriculture’s competitiveness should take top priority in the years ahead as the current farm bill is implemented.
And as we wage that fight, taxpayers can take comfort in the fact that they are shouldering less risk and that U.S. farm policy is headed in the right direction.
Kelly Erickson is immediate past president, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, and farms with his son near Hallock, Minn.
Living through the drought of 2012 as an Illinois farmer gave me a whole new appreciation for risk management tools. There are things that farmers can do to try and deal with the curveballs served up by Mother Nature and with the ups and downs of market swings, but many things — like a massive drought or a heat wave — are completely out of our control.
If this drought would have happened a decade before, it would have left many farmers completely devastated and on the verge of bankruptcy, with nowhere to turn but to Congress for an expensive, taxpayer-funded bailout package. In fact, past disasters have cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars since 1979.
What was different about the drought of 2012, which was the worst natural disaster to hit this state in my lifetime, is that the vast majority of the state’s farmers had purchased the best risk-management tool around: crop insurance. In fact, farmers spent well over $4 billion out of their own back pockets in 2012 purchasing the protection and peace of mind of crop insurance, which meant when disaster struck, they had a backup plan in hand.
The recent Farm Bill took three long years to pass and cut $23 billion out of farm programs. But for those who for whatever reason are always looking to criticize farm policy that still wasn’t enough. Now they have their sights set again on crop insurance, and are pushing forth ideas to make it more expensive for farmers to purchase.
What these misguided groups and members of Congress seem to miss is that the reason why crop insurance has become the best risk-management tool for farmers is that it’s affordable and reliable. In fact, 90 percent of planted cropland was protected by crop insurance in 2014. It’s this level of protection — made possible by crop insurance’s affordability — that keeps expensive disaster bills from hitting taxpayers when Mother Nature strikes.
Unlike direct payments in the past, crop insurance is not a handout. In fact, when farmers purchase crop insurance, they receive a bill, not a check, and only receive a payment if they incur a loss, and only after paying a deductible. Just like homeowners’ insurance, when farmers buy crop insurance, they do so hoping that they will never have to use it. And many of them rarely do. In fact, since 2000, farmers have paid out more than $38 billion purchasing the protection of crop insurance, and in most years, they don’t collect a dime.
If crop insurance becomes more costly, then farmers simply won’t be able to afford it, and they will have nowhere to turn but the federal government when disaster strikes. This is a lesson we learned over and over again before crop insurance became widely available and affordable.
Crop insurance works so well and has been embraced so readily by farmers across the country because it’s a public private partnership that combines the best of the public and private sectors. Crop insurance premiums are partially discounted by the government to ensure affordability and the policies are sold and serviced by the private sector. And when disaster strikes, an indemnity check arrives in weeks, not years.
Like any other public policy, crop insurance isn’t perfect, and I’m sure Congress will do some fine-tuning to the program in the next Farm Bill just like they did in this one. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that farmers are not only enormous producers, they are enormous consumers as well. And with crop insurance policies in hand, they can bounce back from natural disaster or huge market fluctuations and continue to be the engines that drive the economy of rural America.
Keith Mussman is president of the Kankakee County Farm Bureau.
My husband and I have been farming in Southeastern Colorado for more than 40 years, and during that time it’s safe to say there have been a lot of changes not only in farming practices but also in farm policy.
The biggest policy change through the years has been the affordability and availability of crop insurance.
When we first started farming, crop insurance was not an option because we couldn’t afford it.
It wasn’t until Congress made reforms to the program a couple of decades ago that we were able to participate. Additional reforms through the years have made crop insurance more widely available for a variety of crops, regardless of farm size or method of production.
It is still an expensive part of the operation, but it is a necessary part because it provides us with stability — something we can count on. This is helpful not only when we need to show our lender at the bank what our estimated income will be, but also for our own peace of mind.
You have to realize that out here, we can have a beautiful crop and phenomenal yields one year and then get wiped out by a hailstorm or drought the next.
For the last three years, the ongoing drought and the late spring freezes have dogged our crops. With crop insurance, we have been able to level out the highs and lows so we can make it to another year.
The enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill made crop insurance the centerpiece of the farm safety net — and for good reason. It is an effective risk-management tool for not only farmers, but also for taxpayers.
Gone are the days of large, unbudgeted disaster bills aimed at helping farmers when natural disasters strike. Now, because of crop insurance, everyone — policymakers, farmers and bankers — can plan and budget for those disasters.
Recently, there has been talk in Washington about yet again trying to make changes to crop insurance. This is arising just one year after the Farm Bill was enacted.
Specifically, there have been discussions about cutting the premium support that farmers receive for purchasing crop insurance. This does a disservice to everyone.
If such proposals succeed, it would only serve to increase the costs to farmers and undermine their ability to manage risk. As my husband and I can attest, premium support has helped us to afford crop insurance, which, in turn, has helped our overall farming operation.
Each new farm bill ushers in new changes to farm policy. We’ve experienced those changes firsthand, but the one part that should remain constant going forward is crop insurance. It is the key to a steady, safe food production system in the U.S. The beneficiaries of crop insurance are not just farmers but also consumers.
Cathy Scherler is the president of the Colorado chapter of Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE), a national non-partisan organization committed to improving the profitability and production of the agricultural industry. She and her husband grow wheat, grain sorghum, sunflowers and corn on their farm in the Eastern Plains. This op-ed appeared in The Pueblo Chieftain on April 11, 2015.
It was 2010 and I was expecting to harvest my best crop. I had done everything right and the weather had been kind. Or so I thought. Then on a late October night, it hailed for six hours and what was anticipated to be my best crop year turned into nothing. But the worst of it was yet to come. It stopped raining. It stopped for 336 days straight. It kicked off what would be the worst drought since the 1950s. The conditions would improve slightly, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that for the last five years, my part of the world – West Texas – has essentially been on fire.
Mother Nature is the toughest, most unpredictable boss. Farmers are resilient and they adapt, but a safety net is crucial to their survival. And, it’s not a safety net if it’s not affordable.
That’s what today’s crop insurance offers farmers. A safety net that is both affordable and widely available. It’s what’s helped me make it to the next year.
That hasn’t always been the case. When crop insurance got its start in the 1930s, it was a poorly run government program. It hobbled along through the 60s and 70s, but the premiums were too high so the participation was low with limited available coverage. Farmers mainly relied on costly ad hoc disaster assistance when natural disasters wiped out their crops. It was so ineffective that the Secretary of Agriculture, Bob Bergland, told Congress in 1977 that disaster programs “are for the most part…a disaster.” This gave birth to the Federal Crop Insurance Act of 1980 that created a successful public-private partnership that remains today. Since then there have been other pieces of legislation along the way that have made additional improvements to the delivery and mechanics of crop insurance with the most recent being the 2014 Farm Bill.
Sadly, there are some who don’t know or understand the history and improvements that have taken place to make crop insurance what it is today. Meanwhile, there are others who are bent on attacking farm policy regardless.
I was reminded of this on a recent visit to Washington, D.C. where I met with lawmakers and staff on behalf of producers across the country. Each time I visit I am struck by how important outreach is to ensure agriculture remains successful in this country and that crop insurance remains a viable, affordable, and widely available safety net for farmers and ranchers.
I tend to walk away both encouraged and discouraged by my visits. I am encouraged because there are some who understand the challenges that we face; and discouraged because there is always more to be done. The battle never ends and we need more voices in support of American agriculture.
Our form of government requires participation. When we don’t show up and tell our story, without a doubt, someone who doesn’t understand or care about production agriculture and the importance of crop insurance will fill the void.
We all sit on the tractor or the combine and talk to ourselves about how to make things better, but sometimes you have to get off the tractor and find your voice. We can’t assume policymakers understand the anxiety we feel when we’re days away from harvesting a good crop and it’s destroyed in matter of minutes by something beyond our control. We can’t assume policymakers know the one thing that enables us to start again is crop insurance. It’s up to us to tell them.
Wade Cowan is the president of the American Soybean Association. He farms soybeans, guar, cotton, wheat, and grain sorghum in West Texas.