HEADLINES & MEDIA
As Illinois farmers, our biggest concerns regarding the whims of Mother Nature are late spring freezes, heavy spring rains that delay planting, wind, hail, and possibly flood damage.
But this year, we’re in a whole other ballgame. We live in a part of the state that is affectionately known as “Little Egypt,” which could be quite appropriate given the fact that our climate seems more like the Sahara Dessert than the Midwest.
The entire state finds itself in a drought, with all but five counties in a state of “severe, extreme or exceptional” drought. To put that in perspective, a good part of our state is a foot or more below average on rainfall this year. And about 66 percent of our entire corn crop is currently in poor or very poor condition.
It’s times like these that farmers who purchase crop insurance will be able to sleep at night. That’s because crop insurance was designed by Congress for years like this, as a tool to move some of the risk of America’s farm sector from the taxpayers to the private sector.
There are those who say that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But the opposite can be true as well. Sometimes, it’s not until you look on the other side of the fence that you realize just how green your own grass is.
That’s certainly true this year. After good precipitation in the spring, weather in Eastern Montana has been on the dry side since July; but the drought is not yet as severe as that in the Midwest. Weather is top of mind every year, since I’m a farmer who worries every year when I plant 2,300 acres of durum wheat, peas, lentils, flax and canola.
Last year, it was so wet from spring rains that I couldn’t get all of my land seeded. This year, after a promising start, it has become too dry. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, and a few bad years in a row without a good risk management strategy in place could mean the end of your farming career. That’s why I’ve purchased crop insurance every year since I started farming in 2001.
Crop insurance is a public-private partnership that not only reduces taxpayer exposure to risk, but also saves them money. When disaster struck last year with floods in the Midwest, drought in the Southern Plains and hurricanes on the East Coast, farmers who lost everything didn’t send their representatives back to Washington asking for a big farm disaster bill…
Every county in the state of Iowa is experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This time last near, not a single county in the state was experiencing drought. In fact, it would be fair to say that farmers saw quite the opposite conditions last year, especially here in western Iowa.
We had water, and lots of it. In fact, counties bordering the Missouri River had thousands of acres of farmland – homes and communities – that were under water for four months. The Missouri River, which is typically less than 1,000 feet wide, was roughly six miles wide from bank to bank.
From a farmer’s perspective, the only thing last year and this year have in common is that crop losses will be steep. But this is the nature of agriculture, where we are blessed with some of the most productive land on earth in the good years, and then the threat of losing an entire crop, back to back, in the bad years. Thank goodness most farmers purchase crop insurance to help us get back on our feet after those bad years strike.
Last year, Iowa farmers shelled out more than $444 million from their own pockets to purchase crop insurance. Crop insurance has become the best risk management tool available for most farmers because it is a public-private partnership…
The same farmers who faced record flooding last year are facing severe drought this year, which underscores the need for effective risk management tools in agriculture. The Sept. 2 article “Highest cost of drought falls on taxpayers” misses the reasons why crop insurance has gained such broad public and political support.
Farmers purchase crop insurance as a way to shelter themselves from the whims of nature. Most Iowa farmers purchase crop insurance yearly, but rarely collect indemnities. For example, in 2011, Iowa farmers spent $444 million of their money to purchase 124,000 crop insurance policies, of which only 15,000 were indemnified.
The crop insurance system saves taxpayers money. It has all but eliminated the historical response to agricultural disasters, which was 42 supplemental ad hoc disaster bills — measures that cost taxpayers
$70 billion since 1989, according to the Congressional Research Service. And spending on farm programs has gone down substantially over the last few years, roughly 36 percent, as crop insurance use has risen.
Unfortunately, the Environmental Working Group is critical of crop insurance and was quoted that “farmers are praying for drought, not rain” this year. The statement shows a lack of understanding of how crop insurance works and a callous attitude toward the American farmer.
Americans are accustomed to a bountiful food supply that remains affordable. This is possible only through stability and reinvestment in agriculture by America’s farmers and ranchers. For most of them, crop insurance is the best risk management tool, or only such tool, available.
Steve Hamilton, Oakland, Iowa
The portion of the lower 48 states experiencing moderate to exceptional drought increased yet again, to 65%, according to the September 18 U.S. Drought Monitor. In 41%of those states, the drought conditions are considered “severe, extreme or exceptional.” In addition, 54%of the country was in moderate drought or worse.
The majority of the country’s corn and soybean acres are affected, and while it’s too early to predict the full extent of agricultural damage, based on weather data, the losses will likely be greater than 2011 and could rival the flood losses of 1993. Some think losses could be as great as the 1988 drought, but it is still too soon to make that determination.
The National Climatic Data Center reported that as the 2012 drought deepened and expanded this summer, it became one of the six largest droughts in modern record keeping. Here in Ohio, you really didn’t need a weather expert to tell you just how bad it was. And before the rains finally came – which were too late for many of crop – the fields were so dry they had cracked, there was only stubble left for cattle to feed on, and creeks and wells were drying up.
This has been one of those years that can be full of disappointment for a farmer like me. Planting this spring the soil looked great, crop prices were high, and there was every indication that a bountiful harvest was a strong possibility. But the rains left and did not return for months, leaving 53 percent of the corn crop in poor or very poor condition, roughly one-third of the soybean crop in poor or very poor condition and almost 70 percent of our pastures the same.
Author – Mark Drewes is a farmer in Wood County, Ohio.
This op-ed was published in the Bowling Green Sentinal-Tribune.